Design flaw or speed maniacs: Why Expressway is claiming casualties

Danger at the gates: The risky Mlolongo toll station entry

“Please tell those people to put some rumble strips on that road,” a motorist shouted at journalists who were covering the second accident on Monday evening on the newly completed Nairobi Expressway.

Two weeks ago, the road claimed its first casualty when a speeding motorist crashed through the barriers, hitting vehicles that had lined up at the toll station.

Both accidents happened at the same toll exit in Mlolongo. 

James Njenga, the man who perished in the Nairobi Expressway accident, was laid to rest at his parent's home in Thigio Ndeiya, Kiambu County, last Friday.

Jimmy, a graduate of the University of Nairobi, was a government valuer who was  based in Marsabit County.

On Monday, a section of the same toll station was closed temporarily following an evening crash involving an Embassava sacco bus and a private car.

The Monday evening accident left at least 22 people nursing injuries and both vehicles toppled over.

Among those injured was a toll booth attendant.

Could there be a problem with the road that is considered one of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy projects?

The paid-for highway, which was opened to the public in May, affords users a great view of the city, besides the convenience of avoiding Mombasa Road traffic jam.

The expressway has, however, also had a fair share of Nairobi’s endless gridlocks.

Two days after it was opened to the public, motorists complained about unnecessary traffic congestion at the exit points, an issue which the government attributed to lack of change at the toll stations.

While the road that stretches from Westlands to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) was meant to ease traffic for its users, motorists have reported risky spots and other issues regarding the new road.

For instance, the Haile Selassie entry point, right after the Central Business District (CBD) is not easy to use as there is a road right at its entry point and motorists have to slow down and give way.

On the Southern Bypass, motorists can access the expressway via an entry point at NextGen Mall as well as at Airtel, near the Southern bypass/Mombasa road interchange.

Drivers can exit the expressway through two main points; one heading towards Likoni Road and the other towards DTB Bank. Despite being well marked, however, a lot of confusion has been experienced here as the roads start and end abruptly.

At the entrance to Airtel, two roads meet. The one that connects to the Southern Bypass ends at the entry point of the expressway. This means if one is not keen, they might drive to the toll gate.

Another risky spot is at the Hilton Garden Inn Nairobi Airport. The builders of the expressway seem to have disregarded the interests of motorists who couldn’t afford or were not willing to use the expressway. The contractors took a portion of the main road, which has three lanes, and mounted a generator in the middle of the road.

The same risky design is replicated at Mastermind Tobacco Kenya Limited, where barriers and warning signs have been placed after a recent accident.

Then there is the Mlolongo toll station, which has an entry point from AIC Kasina Church and an exit to Great Wall, just right next to the Mlolongo Footbridge.

The Mlolongo and Westlands toll stations are the biggest on the highway.

The entry point to the Mlolongo station, where both accidents occurred, is flat and straight.

Moja Expressway Company, a subsidiary of China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), which manages the Nairobi Expressway, said the accident was caused by speeding motorists.

Unlike the one in Mlolongo, the Westlands toll station is perched some metres above the level of the main road, which means motorists entering or exiting the expressway need to slow down a bit.

The Westlands toll station has, however, gained notoriety for delays, especially during the rush hour, as two inner lanes of the main road are dedicated to the expressway. Sometimes motorists find themselves on the wrong end, causing delays. 

The design of the expressway also seems to have left out motorists entering the CBD. This prompted the government to announce in June that the expressway would be redesigned to give motorists easy access to the CBD.

Back then, Infrastructure Principal Secretary Paul Maringa told Members of the National Assembly that the expressway would be designed in a way that motorists heading to the CBD from Westlands would exit at Nyayo House while those from the airport would land on Haile Selassie Avenue or at the Green park bus terminus.

The PS told the National Assembly Transport, Housing and Public Works committee that he was to approve the new design that week and that working on the road would take between three and six months.

“It is something that we are going to do immediately. Already, I’m going to approve the new design, then construction works will just start,” Prof Maringa said.

The chairperson of the House committee, Mr David Pkosing, said there were many complaints about the current design.

“As it is, it’s not an express but just another highway. So PS and the team, I believe the redesign can be done so that it is the expressway that we envisioned,” Mr Pkosing said.

By early June, more than 31,000 vehicles had used the road on a trial basis, according to Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia.

The CS said the expressway had significantly reduced traffic snarl-ups on the busy  Mombasa Road.

In May, President Kenyatta said the trial run would enable his administration to identify sections that needed to be polished up before its official launch.

Prof Maringa disclosed that some motorists were using the road but refusing to make payments at exit points, claiming they didn’t have money.

This, according to the PS, has compelled the ministry to embark on an ‘aggressive’ campaign to educate Kenyans on how to use the expressway.

“Cash payments take 45 seconds minimum and at the exits, but some people claim they don’t have money or enough money,” the PS said.

There are three modes of payment – electronic toll collection (ETC), manual toll collection (MTC) and cash. Motorists are not allowed to pay via mobile money.

According to Moja Expressway, mobile money payments were avoided because cash transactions are quicker.

The Sh89 billion dual carriageway has 11 interchanges at Mlolongo, Standard Gauge Railway, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Eastern Bypass, Southern Bypass, Capital Centre, Haile Selassie Avenue, Museum Hill, Westlands and James Gichuru Road.


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