Connecting to the periphery

Hilary Nicole Zainab Ervin, Nairobi Community Manager
Nairobi, 3 November 3 2015

Nairobi is notorious among commuters, travellers, and business owners for consistent and costly jams. Large-scale infrastructure development has helped the efficiency and effectiveness of moving goods and people through and around Nairobi. Because of recently completed road projects, peripheral urban areas of Nairobi have experienced many positives, including a dramatic decrease in commuting time—a step that is in line with Kenya reaching its Vision 2030.

The quality and quantity of a nation’s roads are directly correlated with positive growth in key economic trade and development indicators while also having considerable social and environmental impacts. The Government of Kenya estimated that congestion in and around the capital costs the country $578,000 USD a day in lost productivity in 2014.

In November of 2012, former President Mwai Kibaki launched the Thika-Nairobi superhighway development project. The $360 million USD, 31-mile-long, eight-lane infrastructure project received funding from the African Development Bank, the Exim Bank of China, and the Kenyan government. Since completion, the residential and commercial peripheral urban areas of Nairobi have experienced a dramatic decrease in the travel time from 2-3 hours to 30-45 minutes. Market accessibility for traders and producers has increased household incomes for numerous individuals and small-business owners along the route. This project was a first for Kenya and has demonstrated the economic benefit to individuals and businesses, especially those not in the city center, of improved road infrastructure.

The planned developments of the Southern, Northern, and Eastern Bypass roads and improvements to existing Outer Ring Road have the potential to realize further benefits for the country. However, these projects have been frustrated by a number of challenges. The mass relocation of public works, such as sewer and water lines, the proposed Southern Bypass road route through a protected wildlife refuge, and delayed payments from the Kenyan Government are just a few of issues that have frustrated developers.

The Southern Bypass would have considerable impact on the flow of goods to and from the Port of Mombasa and areas upcountry, such as Elderot, Kisumu, and internationally to Uganda. The trunk road will connect Mombasa highway to Kikuyu town, northwest of Nairobi. The 17.7-mile road is financed by the Kenyan (15%) and Chinese governments (85%) to the tune of $165 million USD and contracted to the China Road and Bridge Corporation.

Nairobi’s Outer Ring Road is also up for a long overdue upgrade. This major artery has the highest volume of daily traffic in the nation, servicing 87,000 vehicles per day. With an expected completion date of December 2017, the eight-mile road will increase from a single lane to a two-lane highway and include a number of service roads, 10 footbridges, six subways for pedestrians, non-motorized traffic lanes, six junctions and a Bus Rapid Transport Corridor.

These infrastructure improvements coupled with the Eastern and Northern Bypass roads are on track to have significant and sustained impact on economic growth and development in Nairobi’s suburban and peri-urban communities. A documentary analysis of the impact the Nairobi-Thika superhighway project has had on communities and businesses located along the route provides antidotal evidence that outcomes will be significant and positive. Though beset by challenges of corruption, forced dislocation, and the need to adhere to conservation mandates these large-scale development initiatives, once completed, are likely to provide yet another boost for the East African nation as it barrels towards middle-income status.

Photo credits: Wikipedia: Trans-African Highway network

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