In May 2012, H Young was awarded a Sh2.5 billion contract for the upgrade and rehabilitation of First Avenue in Eastleigh. Construction was expected to take 15 months. This meant that by end of 2013 at latest, the contractor should have handed over the completed project to the Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA).
What followed the award of the tender were several tortuous years for the residents of Eastleigh as well as neighbouring estates. They had to grapple with the seeming permanent road closures during construction and round the clock traffic snarl ups.
To date, the contractor is still on the site and a segment of the road still closed to the public with construction works still ongoing.
The scenario plays out in Nairobi’s Industrial Area where Nigerian contractor Reynolds Construction Company is rehabilitating Enterprise, Lusaka and Likoni roads. The upgrading of Industrial Area roads is part of the Sh4.6 billion contract for the construction the Nairobi Eastern Missing Link Road – jointly financed by the Government and the European Union.
The contractor has however put up what could be best described as an incomprehensible mess at the junction of Likoni and Enterprise roads. The junction, which is at the heart of the country’s manufacturing hub that needs the best of infrastructure, appears abandoned.
How we got investors to say yes
This is after the contractor dug up the area and put up walls on the roadsides in preparations to build an overpass but suspended work. These are just two projects among the many others which mirror the chaos that come with road construction across the country.
This is regardless of whether they are in the middle of a city centre, rural areas or a section of a highway. Delays in completion of road projects are in addition to hours wasted in traffic – mostly due to failure by road contractors to put in place mechanisms to ensure smooth flow of transport during the construction phase.
There are numerous tales of missed appointments and opportunities, commuters staying in traffic past midnight and vehicles ending up in trenches that contractors dig up for drainage system. The tunnels are dangerously left open during construction.
As all these happen, contractors appear unmoved. Jane Mwikali, a resident of Eastlands narrates how she has on several occasions left Nairobi’s city centre before 7:00 pm only to get home at or around midnight, with most of the time taken up navigating a one kilometre stretch on Outering Road crossing over from Buru Buru to her home in Umoja.
“Sometimes you will find that a section of the road has been closed and the plans for closure were not well communicated to commuters, so that they can prepare and probably consider alternative routes,” she said.
The incidences happen despite contractual requirements that road projects be delivered within given timelines and the contractor makes effort to ensure flow of human and vehicular traffic.
This should be through implementation of traffic management plans given to the respective road authorities before they start construction.
Nyanza roads set for Sh18b upgrade
The Ministry of Transport however declined to comment on the ongoing road construction projects including those that have experienced delays and where contractors have notoriously neglected to manage traffic during the construction phase. They instead directed us to the State road agencies.
The Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) said a mix of factors lead to delays in road construction. There are instances where capacity of some road contractors, mostly local, has been put to test and found wanting.
KURA notes that other factors such as managing flow of traffic into the project during construction, relocation of utilities like water, electricity and communication cables as well as litigious society that often moves to court to stop construction affects the speed of construction, even for the most experienced contractors. “Constructing a road in an already built area is a nightmare.
There are so many players including the residents and utility companies as well as customers of these firms. We have also had challenges getting the utility companies to finance the relocation of their infrastructure,” said KURA head of Corporate Communications John Cheboi.
“At times, they will say they do not have money because they had not factored the relocation in their budgets. In many instances, we have had to pay for the relocation ourselves. Other than the utilities, there are numerous instances where we get an injunction stopping the road construction and the contractor cannot go against court orders.”
He further observed. “There are also instances where informal settlements are at play. For example, there is a settlement in Parklands called Deep Sea.
He noted that they notified the residents that they need to move but they do not have anywhere to go. “While we have a responsibility to build the road, we have to deal with people in a humane way and sometimes that can delay the contractor for several months.”
Financial Standard spoke to a number of motorists who have been stuck for hours in traffic on roads under construction. Due to the huge number of motor vehicles and the high population serviced by these roads, the Outer Ring Road and the Nairobi Eastern Missing Link Road in Nairobi are among the projects where motorists have had to spend substantial amount of time.
“Motorists especially matatus start overlapping at the slightest sign that there is going to be a snarl up, even when the person ahead slows down to give way to other road users. They will start using other lanes and even pavements,” said a fruit and vegetable vendor who pries his trade at an open air market along Buru Buru’s Mumias Road which leads to Outering Road.
“Since road construction on Outering Road started, I have seen many instances where lack of patience and courtesy by a few people has resulted in many more motorists spending hours at the same spot as the road becomes gridlocked.”
“The contractor is expected to manage traffic using different modalities that include directing traffic to alternative routes or ensure there is flow within the construction work area such as what we have seen with the Ngong Road contractor where we have not had major traffic issues,” observed Cheboi. “We have engineers on the ground who check to ensure that the contract adheres to the requirements including managing traffic as well as other issues like quality control. Where the contractor is not meeting the requirements of the contract, they are usually warned and in the worst case scenario stop the project. We are hard on them.”
Road contractors are however not the only ones to blame.
Kenyan road users, both motorists and pedestrians, are known for impunity which escalates traffic mess. “We have rogue motorists, mostly matatus but also other motorists that will make life difficult for other road users as well as the contractor. Authorities that are working to ensure construction works go on and that there is a smooth flow of traffic,” said Cheboi.
Cheboi said many of the road projects especially in Nairobi are set for completion in the course of this year. “In Eastleigh, the road has taken longer than expected due to the need to relocate utilities in particular a sewer line that was in the middle of the road. This has already been done and the road works resumed. The road should be complete in the next two months.
“At the junction of Enterprise and Likoni roads, there is a major water line that passes beneath the area. We expect the Nairobi Eastern Missing Link Road to be complete by November.”
The expansion of Ngong Road between the Kenya National Library to the junction of Ring Road Kilimani is 43 per cent complete and is scheduled for completion and commissioning in July this year.