Stage set for tolling on major roads

A Kenya National Highways Authority billboard along the Southern Bypass. The bypass is one of the roads earmarked for tolling station. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A Kenya National Highways Authority billboard along the Southern Bypass. The bypass is one of the roads earmarked for tolling station. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The expected award of a lucrative multi-billion shilling tender for the construction of the Nairobi-Nakuru-Mau Summit road, will set the stage for motorists to start paying to stay on the highway.

The Sh150 billion contract, which will be awarded in May, will see construction of the 180 kilometre road start in November and run for three years.

The plan is to collect funds that will be used to maintain the country’s major arteries such as Mombasa-Nairobi highway, the Nairobi Southern by-pass, Thika Super Highway as well as the Nairobi-Nakuru-Mau Summit highway.

“The tender for the construction of Nairobi-Nakuru-Mau Summit road will be awarded in the next four months and we expect the contractor to move on site in November.

“The project may look like it has been abandoned because it’s taking too long but that’s not true,” said Kenya National Highways Authority (KenHa) director general Peter Munindia on Friday.

Mr Munindia, who was speaking to Sunday Nation in an interview, said the government decided to start with construction of Nairobi-Nakuru-Mau Summit road to learn a few lessons before embarking on setting up of other toll highways.

He expressed optimism that they will get the best firm out of the three that have been shortlisted for the contract award.

The scope of the work, according to Mr Munindia, will include expansion of the said road into a four-lane dual carriage way from Rironi to Mau Summit.

The plan also involves the re-carpeting of Rironi-Mai Mahiu-Naivasha (Escarpment road).

The firm that will win the tender will also be expected to operate and maintain the recently constructed Nairobi Southern Bypass.

A qualified bidder will as well maintain the Gitaru-Rironi section, whose re-construction started last year under James Gichuru-Rironi Road Project.

“Ten contractors had placed their bids for this job. After thorough evaluation, the number has been reduced to three. We will soon award the best contractor for the job. He will be expected to build, maintain, manage and operate the highway and recover his money from motorists in the form of user fees,” he said.

When tolling was first mooted four years ago, it was proposed that motorists would be charged at the rate of Sh1.79 for pick-ups and matatus, and Sh1.20 per kilometre for passenger vehicles.

Large trucks were to part with Sh3.59 per kilometre, medium trucks Sh2.39 and buses Sh2.39 for the same distance.

Road tolls were initially introduced in Kenya in the late 1980s but were scrapped in the mid-1990s in favour of the Roads Maintenance Levy to eliminate rampant corruption at the stations.

Tolling has, however, faced many hurdles, including a demand that the government provides alternative freeways for those who are unable to pay, or those who do not want to use the new roads.

Other projects earmarked for tolling include the Nairobi-Mombasa highway, the Second Nyali Bridge that will connect Mombasa Island to the mainland.

The new projects are expected to cost Sh320 billion with maintenance leases running for between 10 and 30 years.
The government has in the past said money collected through the Road Maintenance Levy has not been adequate to cater for repairs, hence the need to get additional revenues.

In 2016, Sh40 billion was collected through the levy, which is factored in the retail price of fuel. It currently stands at Sh18.

Human and consumer rights groups have criticised the road tolling plan saying since motorists pay normal taxes and the fuel levy, compelling them to part with a toll for road use would amount to the government engaging in multiple taxation.

Lack of introduction of toll-free alternatives for those who do not want to pay as is global practice has heightened opposition to the plan.

Tolling of roads has — in countries where it is in use — raised weighty human rights, equity and fairness issues that have been canvassed in courts of law, causing long delays in their execution.