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Economy

Thika road users spared the pain of daily toll charges

PHOTO | FILE Thika Road.
A section of the Nairobi-Thika highway. The government has decided to outsource road maintenance to a private contractor. FILE  NATION MEDIA GROUP

The government has shelved plans to introduce pay-for-use charges on the Nairobi-Thika highway, choosing instead to distribute the cost of maintaining the road to all motorists countrywide.

The Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) said it had decided to outsource maintenance of the road to a private contractor and to pay for it from the Road Maintenance Levy Fund (RMLF). The authority has invited tenders from construction companies interested in the job.

“The authority invites bids from eligible construction companies registered with the National Construction Authority in class NCA 1 for the output and performance-based maintenance for the Nairobi-Thika highway to be funded through Road Maintenance Levy Fund,” the agency said in a notice on Monday.

The government had earlier planned to introduce road tolls on the highway that would have left the burden of maintenance in the hands of motorists using the 54-kilometre highway.

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“Upon review it was decided that it would take a long time to put in place a toll concession for Thika Road, besides the requisite legislative framework is a complex one,” a senior engineer at Kenha said.

“The sheer size of the asset also dictated that we have in place an elaborate maintenance arrangement in the shortest time possible so that the massive investment does not go to waste.”

Transport secretary Michael Kamau said the pay-for-performance model could provide a stop-gap measure for Kenha as it deals with the pressure of maintaining the highway.

“They [Kenha] may have had to look at perfomance-based maintenance before the tolling comes in play; they may be straining to maintain the road but tolling has to go through the Treasury and Parliament, and that takes time,” he said.

Under the performance-based maintenance model, a contractor would be required to undertake all maintenance work, including sealing potholes, fixing broken road signs and safeguarding equipment such as guardrails.

“The two-year deal with the contractor will be paid for on a monthly basis based on the service rendered,” Kennedy Mudulia, the general manager in-charge of maintenance at Kenha, told the Business Daily.

The work would then be appraised from time to time by Kenha and payments made from the RMLF. It is estimated that the government requires about Sh200 million annually to maintain the road even though Kenha says the cost could rise sharply if measures are not instituted to curb vices such as vandalism of equipment.

Funding the road through the RML means all motorists in Kenya will pay for its maintenance whether they use it or not.

The RMLF is used in the management of Kenya’s entire road network. Established in 1993, fuel levy is charged on petroleum products at the pump. The money is collected by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and managed by the Kenya Roads Board (KRB).

Motorists currently pay Sh9 a litre of petrol or diesel after the tax rate rose from Sh5.80 in June 2006.

This is the second major road project in which the government has shelved plans to introduce the toll concept.

The State had earlier planned to introduce the pay-for-use concept on the Nairobi section of the country’s main trunk road covering Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and Rironi area near Limuru.

Under the initial plan, the road was to be built and managed through a concession consisting of six sections totalling 77 km. The 30-year build-operate-transfer (BOT) deal would have seen motorists pay “toll charges” to the concessionaire. Initial estimates indicated that users would pay about Sh572 per day.

The plan was, however, abandoned after businesses and property owners opposed the proposed demolition of buildings along the highway.

Questions were also raised about the integrity of Strabag, the Austrian firm that had won the concession contract. This caught the attention of the World Bank, which reacted by withholding funding for the Sh67 billion project pending a comprehensive due diligence on Strabag International — leading to a two-year delay of the works.

Strabag unsuccessfully tried to convince the government and the World Bank to proceed with the project.

The project has since been redesigned with the government excluding the controversial tolling concept that risked delaying it.

A preliminary artistic impression seen by the Business Daily showed that the JKIA-Tigoni road project will see the construction of an elevated road between Nyayo National Stadium and the Museum Hill flyover.

The stretch would also have additional special lanes to accommodate a special bus rapid transport system (BRT) that will run from JKIA to Kikuyu on the outskirts of the city.

The BRT route will be a single carriageway and will run in the middle section of the highway from JKIA to Kikuyu.

Under the project, the 18km section between Uthiru and Rironi is to be rehabilitated while the Airport South Road will be turned into a dual carriageway with access roads to the Inland Container Depot at Embakasi, according to plans by Kenha, the project implementer.

The JKIA-Rironi road is expected to supplement another planned project known as the Nairobi Metropolitan Mass Rapid Transport System (MRTS) that will entail the construction of a 167km exclusive public road and rail transport grid that would link the city centre with key neighbouring towns and municipalities such as Kikuyu, Thika, Ruiru, Athi River, Kitengela, Machakos, Limuru and Kajiado.

The project is to be implemented along nine road corridors namely; Nairobi Railway Station (NRS)-Ruiru-Thika, NRS-Juja Road-Kangundo, NRS-Jomo Kenyatta Airport-Athi River, NRS-Langata Road-Karen and NRS-Upper Hill-Ngong.

Among other corridors to be covered by the project are NRS-Kabete-Kikuyu, NRS-Gigiri- Limuru and Outer Ring Roads in city’s Eastland’s area.

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