By Gerald Andae;

Construction will begin next week on a 41.7 kilometre stretch of the Mombasa/Nairobi highway as the government takes the first step to expand the road.

Work on the Mombasa-Mariakani segment of the highway is the first phase in an infrastructural plan to upgrade the 485 kilometre road, a main artery for the region’s trade which has nevertheless been plagued by chronic traffic snarlups.

“Work along that section of the road will start in the second week of April and it is estimated to cost Sh22 billion,” said Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia.

The goal is to convert the road into a dual carriage way paving the way for tolling which will see motorists pay more to drive. Work on the Mariakani-Mombasa segment of the highway is partly financed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) which had in 2015 committed to Sh12.7 billion ($123 million) to the project.

Over 90 per cent of goods landing at Mombasa port are moved by road and the remaining by railway, underlining the importance of the highway in the face of growing cargo.

However, the road’s share of cargo is expected to fall to about 50 per cent once the government completes building the standard gauge railway (SGR).

The Treasury last year picked a consortium led by consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to offer transaction advisory for the expansion. The highway is crucial for trade in the region since it connects Mombasa port to hinterland markets, including landlocked Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

Nearly all goods imported by these landlocked countries reach their destinations via this road, making it an important regional economic asset.

The port handled 1.07 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo last year, up from 695,000 TEUs in 2010, signifying rising trade volumes in the region.

That growth has, however, not been matched with equal expansion of the infrastructure over the past 50 years.

The Nairobi-Mombasa road has, for instance, remained a single-carriageway despite the huge increase in the number of private cars, buses and trucks transporting cargo. The narrow highway has sometimes suffered painful gridlocks lasting for days and deadly accidents, mainly from head-on collisions.

Work on the road has been repeatedly delayed in the past despite government promises.

In August 2015, the government promised that it would begin work on the Mombasa-Mariakani segment of the road within four months.

Further, there is a lack of clarity on the financing mix that the Treasury will use in addition to planned tolls.

Last year the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) said the government was seeking funds from the United States.

In September, talks were held with the US government and an engineering firm, Bechtel, which led to the signing of a letter of interest in the project.

At the same time, the US ExportImport Bank said it was working to secure investment for the highway.

Mr Macharia has in the past said that the government will pursue private public partnerships to finance the project.

Source; Business Daily

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