Kenya's offer to emulate Nairobi Expressway model on new Highway rejected

The US contractor tasked with building the upcoming Sh300 billion road has made a u-turn on the project model.

Nairobi Expressway contruction at Westlands

A US firm contracted to build the Sh300 billion Nairobi - Mombasa Expressway has declined Kenya's offer.

According to documents from the Parliamentary Budget Office, the company named Betchel Engineering has rejected Kenya's proposal to emulate the model used for building the elevated expressway.

Kenya wanted the company to foot the cost of building the road and charge motorists to recover its cost in a Public Private Partnership.

The 473-kilometre road is designed to achieve consistent high speeds of upwards of 100km per hour, reducing the journey between Mombasa and Nairobi to about four hours.

According to research from the Inter-America Development Bank, a road only qualifies for a profitable toll model if has traffic of over 5,000 cars daily.

The contractor has indicated that the country will get better value for money if the road is constructed under an EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) model rather than a toll model,” a report from the the Parliamentary Budget Office read.

Betchel also claimed that under a public private partnership, the cost of building the road would increase from Sh300 billion to Sh1.5 trillion.

However, the contractor had intially accepted to build the road on a toll model, with a 2017 statement from the company saying "The high-speed expressway will be one of the most important new pieces of infrastructure in the East African Community. It will have four lanes and 19 interchanges. The expressway will become a toll road and will provide a faster transit to support growth and industry".

What was to become Kenya's first expressway was overtaken by the JKIA-James Gichuru Road expressway whose completion is scheduled for the end of the year.

It has now been over four years since talks to building the road started when President Barack Obama was still in office.

The contract was signed in 2017 and single sourced to Betchel. The PPP model would have taken pressure off the government which is already knee-deep in debt.

In December 2020, the Treasury claimed that Kenya's debt was Sh7.2 trillion, which was 65.6per cent of GDP.

The new road was to be constructed parallel to the existing Nairobi - Mombasa highway.

Many countries, including the Canada, France, UK, India, South Africa and Nigeria, have adopted the toll model to fund their road infrastructure.

Toll fees were introduced in Kenya in the late 1980s but were scrapped in the mid-1990s in favour of the roads maintenance levy currently charged at Sh18 per litre of petrol and diesel.

The Nairobi Expressway is being built under a PPP with the China Road and Bridge Corporation.

Kenya also signed another PPP to build the Rironi – Mai Mahiu – Naivasha which is the largest PPP in Africa valued at Sh160 billion.

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