Roads are now the government’s most expensive asset valued at about Sh2 trillion.
Roads permanent secretary Michael Kamau told the Nation the country had a network of about 160,000 kilometres currently.
He said 14,000 kilometres are tarmacked and more are being improved daily.
Mr Kamau said the Treasury had increased allocation to infrastructure over the years from Sh165.8 billion to Sh221 billion every financial year of which about Sh24 billion is used annually for maintenance.
He spoke as the construction of the 8.4-kilometre Western Ring Road at Sh1.9 billion was going on in the western part of Nairobi.
But the road at the centre of national attention is Thika Super Highway, set to eventually cost about Sh30 billion.
It was initially budgeted at Sh25 billion, but has since shot up as a result of change in design and relocating of public utilities like water pipes, sewer lines and electricity lines.
Thika Super Highway passes through the trans-Africa highway and the government could not let it choke under traffic jams, according to Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) director general Meshack Kidenda.
The road links Cairo in Egypt to Johannesburg in South Africa and could not be let to “strangle” traffic.
But politics has inevitably crept in, with presidential aspirant Cyrus Jirongo and lawyer Abdullahi Ahmednasir being some of those claiming that the road was designed to lead to President Kibaki’s rural home of Othaya, claims swiftly dismissed by the government.
Mr Kidenda said the road was designed way before the Narc government came to power in 2003.
“Apart from reducing traffic on the road, the highway is one of the so-called arteries of Africa, which the African Union says should have a free flow at all times,” he said.
He said Mombasa Road, which is choked by jams, was being redesigned to ensure that there was a free flow of cars to the Great Lakes region.
Mr Kidenda said an express lane from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) to Rironi was being designed and would, on completion, greatly reduce jams along the highway. The new design by Cowi Consultants would avoid demolition of buildings along the highway.
“The 51-kilometre road, where Haile Salasie to Museum Hill would have a double deck, will be constructed in three phases that will start from JKIA to Likoni Road, Likoni to James Gichuru and James Gichuru to Rironi,” he said.
The road would ensure that most motorists who don’t have any business in the city centre use the upper section of the road as they proceed with their journey to the western side of the city.
“The number of vehicles is increasing at a fast rate and being an entrance to landlocked countries, most cars are jamming our roads, hence the need to come up with new, better roads,” said Mr Kidenda.
“Roads are like a pipe of water, and the bigger the pipe, the easier the movement hence the need for both the Thika Super Highway and the elevated express way.”
Mr Kidenda said internationally, railways are supposed to carry 80 per cent of freight, but it was the reverse in the country.
“Our roads carry about 95 per cent of freight, while railway is doing five per cent which should not be the case; those are some of the things we should be dealing with.”
Mr Kidenda said the designs of the roads they had come up with was due to the encroachment Kenyans had done on road reserves, and the authority needed to do something to avoid much damage to buildings near lee ways.
“Those comparing our intersections to international roads and criticising them don’t put into consideration the limited road reserve at our disposal,” he said.
Mr Kidenda cited the hue and cry which was experienced when the Ministry of Roads wanted to demolish structures along Mombasa Road and the hiving off of Nairobi National Park for the Southern by-pass.
“All we are trying to do in designing and constructing of our roads is to use local solutions to come up with better flow of traffic,” he said.
The Kenha boss said highways were designed so that they do not have bumps, but a lot of accidents had been experienced on Thika Super Highway due to drivers’ carelessness, yet blame was heaped on the authority.
He said after roads were constructed, other actors like the police needed to carry on from there and not the ministry.
Mr Kidenda said they had been forced to erect bumps in highways such as Thika, Mombasa-Nairobi, Nakuru and Eldoret due to accidents, which was the role of the police.
“Bumps are an added cost to us and they really damage our roads because sections where bumps are, wear out faster,” he said.
Where vehicles are supposed to take one hour, motorists are then forced to take about one and a half hours due to bumps.
“Though the bumps in Thika are temporary, we have seen incidents where pedestrians cross roads under footbridges beating the logic why we should have them,” Mr Kidenda said.
He said in some sections, motorists are supposed to drive at 50kms but go at 100kms.
“In such instances surely, who is supposed to ensure that drivers drive on the limit we have provided on road signs?” he asked.
Decimating road signs
Mr Kidenda said vandals were also decimating road signs, guard rails and other road property and money which should have been channelled to maintenance of roads like clearing drainage and repairing potholes were going to them.
Besides vandalism, he said, poor agricultural husbandry was leading to the destruction of roads like at Maai Mahiu, where top soil cover had been exposed during rainy seasons due to felling of trees.
He said the construction of Eldoret-Malaba, Kericho-Kisumu, Timboroa-Eldoret roads was ongoing and the country should be patient because the authority was also facing budgeting constraints.