An American structural engineer, Joseph Straus, once said: ‘Bridges are a monument of progress.’ This adage will soon hold true to residents of the Coast region, with the construction of the proposed Mombasa Gate Bridge across the Likoni channel.
Construction of the Sh46 billion bridge, to facilitate traffic between the city of Mombasa, the South Coast and Kwale, starts in 2021 and is expected to boost trade and tourism on the South Coast.
This bridge will also significantly complement the Dongo Kundu road bypass, which is almost complete.
These developments come hot on the heels of recent discoveries of substantial mineral deposits in Kwale and the unprecedented move by the national government to allow the Kwale county government to manage the fishing port of Wasini and a revival of the bixa farming.
Properly harnessing these resources can catapult Kwale into the league of the wealthiest counties in the country.
Economic development in this region has stagnated for years due to poor infrastructure. Over the years aging ferries have been the main means of travel across the Likoni channel.
There have also been cases of missed flights by tourists travelling from Diani to Moi International Airport, loss of lives and property caused by vehicles plunging into the ocean off the ferries or off the ramps from time to time and low property value due to investor apathy.
But there is some light at the end of the tunnel after Treasury acting Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani and the Japanese ambassador to Kenya, Ryoichi Horie, last month signed a loan agreement, paving the way for the construction of the Mombasa Gate Bridge to begin in 2021.
The concessionary loan is payable in 28 years with a grace period of 12 years.
By 2047, when the government is expected to start repaying the Japanese loan, the economic impact of the super bridge on the South Coast and Mombasa City will be self-evident.
The construction of the Mombasa Gate Bridge will also turn into reality the numerous promises made by the successive governments to link Mombasa City with the South Coast.
For many years, the government has toyed with the idea of either building a bridge, a tunnel or a cable car across the Likoni channel.
A cable car costing Sh5.5 billion would transport up to 80,000 people across the channel in a day while the ferries carry over 300,000 people daily.
A report presented to the Mtongwe ferry disaster commission stated that plans for the building of a bridge or a tunnel across the channel had been in the pipeline for decades, but had always been put off because of a lack of funds.
According to the report, the first serious study in an attempt to resolve the communication bottleneck across the 500-metre channel was initiated in 1983 through the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
The Japanese also built the New Nyali Bridge in 1980, the New Mtwapa Bridge and later the Kilifi Bridge, significantly opening Mombasa’s North coast all the way to Malindi for trade and tourism.
Before then, Mombasa Island was linked to the North mainland with a floating pontoon bridge, built in 1931.
Assuming that the same kind of comprehensive planning has gone into the Mombasa Gate Bridge, this project is likely to end up achieving for both Mombasa South Coast and Kwale, the same kind of benefit that the Thika Superhighway brought to Kiambu and Murang’a counties.
Property prices will rise. Urbanisation will be accelerated. Jobs will be created. And both tourism and trade will be greatly expanded through a huge “multiplier effect” of the improved infrastructure.
Sunguh is an independent journalist and a communication consultant based in Mombasa.