Chinese road construction work unclogs Nairobi

Updated: 2011-08-10 09:28


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NAIROBI - One of the things that leave a mark on visitors who tour Kenya's capital Nairobi is its chronic traffic jams which could last for several hours.

The worst nightmare traffic jams are experienced especially during peak times, morning and evening hours, and sometimes during the day.

The snarl ups have become part of Nairobi's identity since they affect all key roads and major arteries within the central business districts and on the outskirts of the city.

To understand the phenomena, one needs to drive on any city road from 7 am. (0400GMT).

"You will waste many hours sitting in traffic jams. If you make a mistake and join the other drivers at about 7am, be sure you are going to arrive in the city center at 9 am (0600GMT)," says Getrude Nzioki.

Nzioki says the traffic jams are a headache to both motorists and traffic police officers.

"The police do not only have to control traffic flow but also keep an eye on errant drivers, especially those of passenger service vehicles, who drive on the side of the road inconveniencing other motorists and clogging traffic flow," she notes.

Thus, to avoid traffic jams, which in Nairobi's parlance are known as bumper-to-bumper because vehicles drive closely to each, many commuters and motorists leave their houses early before 6 am or use longer routes.

The traffic jams, however, will soon be history in Nairobi thanks to Chinese road construction companies.

The companies, which include China Wu Yi, Synohydro Corporation and Shengli Engineering Construction Group are working on various roads in Nairobi, expanding them into several lanes and knocking off roundabouts, which have been identified as one of the major causes of snarls up since they delay the flow of vehicles.

Soon, Nairobi will join the class of other world metropolis in terms of its road network and acquire a new identity.

"We believe when Thika road is complete most probably this year, we will no longer experience traffic jams," says Martin Kimani, who uses the road everyday.

"Already, we are enjoying the benefits of using the superhighway in sections, which have been complete, for instance from Safari Park Hotel to Utalii Hotel. Traffic flow at this sections is superb," he adds.

The importance of doing away with roundabouts and expanding road network is evident on the superhighway.

Before, while driving from the city center to Githurai, for instance, one had to negotiate about five roundabouts lined on the road.

However, that was not a problem, especially during off-peak hours. The challenge came during peak hours when vehicles on three lanes of either side of the road stopped at the roundabouts to take turns to pass.

This often caused a build up of traffic, which often stretched far away.

Now, with Chinese road construction firms replacing the roundabouts with flyovers, Kenyan motorists are "enjoying" themselves on the road.

"Sometimes I look at the newly built intersections on the road and I do not believe this is Kenya. My wish is to see all the roundabouts on our roads removed and replaced with flyovers to ease traffic flow since the number of vehicles on our roads is rising," says Kimani.

A report by Kenya's Ministry of Roads and Public Works in 2008 estimated the number of vehicles in Nairobi to be at 300,000. The report further indicated that only 15.3 percent of commuters used private cars, which accounted for 36 percent of vehicles on city roads.

Another 29 percent of commuters used public transport vehicles, which accounted for 27 percent of vehicles on roads. Certainly, the figures have doubled radically since then and are expected to rise exponentially by 2025, therefore occasioning change of strategy in easing traffic flow in Nairobi.

At the same time, the roads in Nairobi are being expanded to between four and six lanes. At some sections, the contractors have build underpasses.

Another road, which the Chinese contractors are widening and repaving, is the Old North Airport road, which is a key alternative artery that links the city center to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Kenya's main gateway.

Motorists going to the airport had shunned the road because it was always chocked with traffic jam, sometimes the entire day.

Despite its importance, the road had single lanes and coupled with roundabouts, traffic congestion was indescribable.

The roadwork is a radical surgery on Kenya's roads that Nairobi residents have never seen before.

But one thing residents are certain about is that the renovations will help unclog traffic jams on roads and open up Nairobi.