The Sh32b traffic snarl ups: Was Thika Road value for money?

While the new road looks beautiful, the traffic situation is virtually the same.

When retired president Mwai Kibaki launched the new look Thika Superhighway in November 2012, road users were ecstatic.

To many, the event, which saw the former head of state take a short stroll on the fresh tarmac, had marked an end to their torturous journeys.

But fast forward to five years on and Sh32 billion down –in 2018- and Nairobians like George Kimani, who drives a matatu that plies the Thika route, has a different thoughts. Like thousands of motorists using this route, Kimani has to endure long hours on the road.

The road gets busy from 5:45am where motorists take between one and half hours to two hours on the stretch between Safari Park and the central business district.

For Stanley Waithaka, a tout on Thika Road, traffic jams mean reduced income.

“When there’s no traffic we make more trips unlike when there’s traffic. Like today I have only made three trips since morning at times when the roads are clear I do like 4-5 trips by now. When there’s no traffic you will charge Sh50 on more trips which is better than charging 80 bob when there’s,” he says.

But even during off-peak hours, the vehicles are slowed down by the rubble strips and bumps erected on these sections.

It, however, worsens as motorists approach the Pangani interchange where more than 10 lanes merge into just three lanes before feeding off into Wangari Maathai Road and Murang’a Road.

Observers feel that the traffic mess at this section is caused by an engineering problem where some buildings and utilities were saved at Pangani, leaving engineers to make do with the available space.

The Kenya National Highways Authority assistant director, Corporate Communication, Charles Njogu, however, has a different opinion.

The traffic is affected by lack of footbridges at Homeland and Drive Inn where, during peak hours, police officers have to stop vehicles to allow pedestrians to cross to the other side of the 12-lane masterpiece.

Most of the Thika Superhighway users question whether taxpayers got value for money from the Sh32 billion project.

During evening rush hour, many hours are wasted on the road as motorists are slowed down by the bumps at the Drive Inn and Homeland areas.

Mr Njogu says Kenyans got return on investment. He says that contractors are already on the ground and in the preliminary stages of erecting the much-needed footbridges.

He attributes the tailback to a population explosion along Thika Superhighway, citing examples of populous estates around Mathare, Kasarani and Githurai.

Experts have also blamed Kenya’s overreliance on road as a preferred means of transportation for the mess that is Thika Road.

Currently, Kenya has more than two million vehicles; 600,000 are found in Nairobi and 30,000 are PSVs.

Experts have recommended a multipronged approach to tackle the mess on a motorway such as Thika superhighway.

This is one of the most comprehensive suggestion put forward by Simon Kiragu Kabui, who did a thesis for his civil engineering course at the University of Nairobi. The thesis can be found here .

Kabui recommends using reversible lanes also known as tidal flow action in engineering.

“This is whereby on a section of a two way multilane road such as the Thika Super Highway, traffic congestion affects one side of the road at peak hours it is possible to add an extra lane from the direction where there is no traffic jam to match the demand on the other side,” he says.

“This may work since during peak hours there is more traffic flowing toward the Nairobi CBD than the opposite direction.”

The reversible lanes strategy has worked in San Diego in the US .

But although the lanes are clearly marked, the plan is yet to be implemented because of lack of vehicles with passenger capacity of 80 and above as well as the legal framework.

As Kabui suggests, the goal in having dedicated bus lanes is to “have a higher number of people travelling with fewer vehicles”.

Parking restrictions in the Nairobi CBD could be put in place to ensure use of personal vehicles is less attractive,” adds the researcher.

“This may be done by reducing the number of parking spaces in the city or by raising the parking fees. By doing so, this encourages use of public means of transportation hence less traffic experienced on the road.”

Such an initiative can be complemented with park-and-ride facilities outside the CBD, toll stations to make driving private cars less attractive.

The government can also impose road quotas where those with even number plates and those with odd number plates are allowed into the city on alternate days.

For now, though, motorists will have to bear with spending longer hours on the road even as some like, Peter Muchoki, keep hope alive.

Report by Kenfrey Kiberenge, Wanja Mungai, Rose Wangui and Brian Okoth.