Leaders from the Western region are concerned about a spike in the number of crashes and explosions of fuel tankers on Northern Corridor roads.
They want the highway expanded to accommodate growing vehicle traffic, which includes long-distance trucks going to or coming from landlocked countries like Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.
The Northern Corridor, a gateway to the landlocked economies of the East African Community from the seaport of Mombasa, is one of the busiest and most important transport routes in the region.
Road safety, however, remains a major challenge, with numerous studies showing that accidents on the route lead to significant loss of human life and property.
Several fuel tankers have exploded and killed scores of people.
In June 2015, four people died when a matatu collided with a tanker, which exploded in Kanduyi, Bungoma County.
On August 8, 2020, a truck driver was burnt to death when his tanker burst into flames on the Bungoma-Malaba highway.
On September 26 the same year, a fuel tanker caught fire and exploded at Mukhonje on the Eldoret-Webuye highway, burning to death seven people.
A few weeks later, on October 13, two trucks caught fire at Mayanja shopping centre on the Bungoma-Malaba road when one truck driver lost control and rammed into a tanker, which exploded.
On July 17 this year, a fuel tanker heading to Busia from Kisumu overturned and exploded after a head-on collision with a lorry. The accident left 19 dead. The victims were among dozens of people who rushed to the accident scene to siphon petrol.
In the latest incident, on October 9, transport was disrupted when a fuel tanker burst into flames in Malaba.
The road crashes threaten to hamper the achievement of key development goals of the East African Community.
According to the Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Coordination Authority, in Kenya, the Mombasa-Nairobi-Malaba highway is in fair/good condition, although some sections require rehabilitation. The Nakuru-Kisumu-Busia route is generally in poor condition, which contributes to accidents.
Busia Deputy Governor Moses Mulomi says highway exit points are crucial.
“We are highly challenged by the two key roads in Busia County that have numerous trucks moving across the East African region. Despite the government opening development in Mombasa with bypasses allowing trucks to carry goods seamlessly through Nairobi, Nakuru and Kisumu, the exit point (in Busia and Malaba) is a challenge,” Mr Mulomi said.
“The government should expand the main entry into Busia to decongest the road, which has failed to handle all the trucks. Naturally, it is a danger and security threat that we can have between 100 and 500 trucks carrying fuel and other very volatile material standing on the road for several weeks.”
Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula said the national government must ensure that Kenya National Highway Authority (Kenha) routes in and out of Kenya in Busia and Malaba, and the third one proposed at Muluanda, are built to allow seamless traffic flow.
“For us to efficiently serve the partners and make the economy grow, we need to quickly resolve the congestion of trucks on the road because it is affecting our trade,” said Mr Wetang’ula, calling for appropriate lanes, parking bays for trucks and bypasses to improve the efficiency of trade between Kenya and her partner states.
The Ford Kenya party leader urged Kenha to redesign and correct sections of the highway so as to ease traffic flow into the Great Lakes counties.