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Nairobi Expressway. East Africa’s First Urban Motorway

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

Africa | Infrastructure | Kenya August 31, 2022

Kenya’s Nairobi Expressway in Nairobi that has been under construction since October 2019 has been completed and is now in operation. The impressive state-of-the-of-art expressway was inaugurated by the country’s President Uhuru Kenyatta on July 31, 2022.

Nairobi Expressway, also known as JKIA - Westlands Highway, is a 27 km toll road. It is one of Kenya’s landmark infrastructure projects in recent time, and the first urban motorway in East Africa. It begins at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA)’s nearby area of Mlolongo on the eastern side of Nairobi city and proceeds westwards into downtown Nairobi via Eastern Bypass and Southern Bypass, before culminating at the Nairobi-Nakuru highway’s James Gichuru junction in the city’s district of Westlands.

The expressway entails 4-lane carriageway that swells to 6 lanes at some parts, 10 traffic interchanges, 15 entrances, and 14 exits. It also entails toll stations at entrances that allow for both Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) and Manual Toll Collection (MTC). The expressway runs along Nairobi - Mombasa Highway at ground and grade levels before been elevated as it approaches and traverses downtown Nairobi with the city’s iconic Kenyatta Avenue, Haile Selassie Road, and University Way underneath it hence untouched by the new urban structure.

Spatially, Nairobi Expressway has had considerable impact on the city’s skyline/townscape. Also, it has had impact on the city’s spatial pattern, but such impact has been rather limited due to the fact already outline above. That is, in strict spatial terms the expressway follows existing spatial pattern by running along Nairobi – Mombasa Highway and above existing streets as it approaches and crosses downtown Nairobi. This deliberate alignment of the expressway was probably aimed at reducing demolition of existing urban solids and voids hence minimizing compensation costs and ensuring urban preservation.

Nairobi Expressway was delivered through Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement at a cost of about $550 million. However, some other sources give higher cost figures for the project, of up to $688 million. It is the first road project in Kenya to be implemented through the PPP model. The PPP involved the Government of Kenya and China Road and Bridges Construction Corporation (CRBC). Under the arrangement, CRBC designed, financed, and constructed the road. Also, CRBC will operate and maintain the road as well as collect toll charges to recover its investment in the project during a 30-year concession period starting from when the construction began. After expiry of the concession period, CRBC will hand over the road to the Government of Kenya.

In concluding, Nairobi Expressway is very likely to have profound spatial, functional, and economic benefits to Nairobi city, hence contribute to efforts geared towards transforming the city into a truly world class city. Particularly, the expressway would contribute to alleviation of traffic congestion and reduction of travelling time from the east, west, and some other parts of the city to downtown Nairobi. That would enhance the city’s efficiency, and convenience. The expressway may also have enhanced the city’s beauty.

Furthermore, and more generally, Nairobi Expressway project presents a good example for illustrating that it is more cost effective to improve whole stretches of long roads at once than doing that in piecemeal. In Nairobi, 10 traffic interchanges were included in the expressway project total cost of about $550 million. However, if the interchanges were done separately, their total cost alone could have exceeded that.

Take a look at the video above, that is intended to give an idea about how the completed Nairobi Expressway looks like.


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