It has been an eight-year, seemingly, at times, pipedream, that is still fraught with problems, but the 473-kilometer Nairobi-Mombasa Expressway project may at last be coming to fruition.
The National Treasuries Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) Committee has granted first stage approval for Expressway which will hopefully lead to the project moving on to the development stage.
Barack Obama and the Bechtel Corporation
It was back in 2015 when US President Barack Obama visited Kenya that the idea of the Nairobi-Mombasa Expressway finally took shape with a US construction company, the Bechtel Corporation, given the task to dual the existing two lane, often clogged and sometimes even impassable highway.
Construction was due to start in 2018 but as it so often is with major infrastructure projects the project got bogged down in the mire of who was gong to do what and more importantly, who was going to pay for it.
Same old problem – Who will pay?
The Kenya National Highways Authority wanted a “Build, Operate, Transfer” agreement in which Bechtel built the highway recovering its costs and making a profit from toll fees.
Bechtel was looking more at an engineering, procurement and construction contract that would see the Kenyan government fund at least part of the project.
Then, as again so often happens, the cost of the venture grew, up 66.7 per cent in just a few months, with the estimated construction costs increasing from Bechtel’s estimate of Sh185.9 billion against a Kenyan estimate of $3 billion (Sh309.9 billion).
The project, according to the Treasury is today set at $3.6 billion (Sh555.09 billion).
60 years after independence
There’s a long way to go and some are against the idea altogether. Peter Kimani writing in The Standard (Express development: why Mombasa road will be a game changer, December 222, 2023) noted that the project made no sense five years ago but has now been resurrected.
The propose Nairobi-Mombasa Expressway, however, will allow for an increase in capacity, handling more vehicular traffic, speed up the movement of goods and services, and perhaps transform the Mombasa road in terms of road safety.
60 years after independence, Kenya does not have a major highway linking its capital to the country’s major port. It’s time it did.