Ksh300 Billion Nairobi-Mombasa Expressway Project Hits Bump

  • A dual carriage highway.
    A dual carriage highway.
  • The highly-publicized Nairobi-Mombasa expressway project is currently listed under the 'planned projects' on the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) website, with no specific timelines regarding commencement or completion.

    Initial construction costs by Bechtel, a US-based private construction conglomerate, was estimated at Ksh185.9 billion.

    The US firm won the contract in a government-to-government deal that formed part of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s discussions with US President Donald Trump at the time.

    However, the Kenyan government placed the cost at Ksh309.9 billion which was Ksh124 billion more, leading to a pull out from the US partners, citing inflation of costs as a key reason.

    An artistic image of the Nairobi Mombasa Expressway.
    An artistic image of the Nairobi Mombasa Expressway.

    The US Embassy in Nairobi said that the contracted company is subject to the country’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which must ensure American companies do not engage in corrupt dealings.

    “We are still working on the financing Kenya has a challenge of debt and we are wary of burdening Kenyans,” US Ambassador to Kenya stated in May 2019.

    He further added that the US is wary of committing to a project whose cost would turn out to be three to four times higher than the actual cost, reiterating that the Trump administration was keen to ensure an honest return on investment to Kenyans.

    The proposed 4-lane-dual carriageway road was meant to link Nairobi to Mombasa and cut road travel time to an estimated 4 hours from the current 8 hours.

    Construction of the 473Km expressway was to begin at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) along the existing Nairobi-Mombasa highway and snake through seven Counties to end at the Changamwe Roundabout in Mombasa.

    According to the project plan, the highway would support sustained speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour.

    However, five years since conception, the project is yet to kick-off, with the relevant authorities stating that consultations are still being carried out.

    Reports have since emerged claiming that the Environmental Impact Assessment on the project was never completed. 

    The feasibility study done earlier had indicated that the viability of the project rested in the operator being allowed to charge a toll in order to recover the costs of construction.

    The road development which was proposed to run parallel to the current Nairobi-Mombasa highway, was projected as key to promoting trade and movement in Kenya and neighboring countries.

    It was expected to generate nearly twice the funds spent to build it over a period of 25 years and was said to be ready for use by 2023.

    As it stands, the latest reports indicate that Chinese firms are keen to take up the project.

    On January 29, 2020, Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia admitted that the government was facing challenges completing a number of projects.

    Speaking after touring the Kisumu Port, Macharia said the government banked its hopes on a Ksh150 billion bond it was seeking to issue to raise money for stalled road projects.

    “We have had challenges in completing road projects, but funds from the bond will be available by March, after which we will pay all pending bills to contractors amounting to Ksh80 billion and dedicate the rest to completion of the projects,” he stated.

    Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia with contractors of the Kenol-Marua dual carriageway, July 2020.
    Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia with contractors of the Kenol-Marua dual carriageway, July 2020.