Student puts Thika Road progress on private blog

Friday October 7 2011

 

By JOHN NGIRACHU [email protected]

For most frequent users of Thika Road, the expansion works on the dual carriage-way have been a tale of dusty journeys through rough and unpredictable diversions made worse by the perpetual traffic jams.

Those who often join the expanding road from housing estates along it have also complained of waking up to find that the access roads they initially used have been cut off in the middle of the night.

But for engineers and those interested in future development of mega-structures, the expansion of Thika Road from a dual carriageway to what the Government enthusiastically refers to as a super-highway has been an interesting journey.

One of these enthusiasts is Wilfred Gachugi, a 23-year-old electrical engineering student at Mt Kenya University in Thika, who has been recording the expansion on his blog, thikaroad.blogspot.com, which is migrating to www.thikaroadblog.net.

Mr Gachugi’s idea is unique because one rarely finds a citizen keeping track of a government project without being motivation by money.

The young student took it upon himself to chronicle the development of the road after listening to endless conversations in matatus stuck in the traffic.

“I used to go to Nairobi for attachment every day and in the matatu you could hear people discussing theories about the road. So I decided to start my own blog and put information available on it,” says Mr Gachugi.

The costs of putting up a website were prohibitive, so in January 2010, he placed whatever he could find on thikaroad.blogspot.com, and waited for reactions.

He got a few reactions a few days later, which were typically just words of encouragement such as “keep it up, good work, we need more…”

With the dearth of information on the expansion of the road, coupled with the occasional news item on progress and links to Twitter and Facebook, Mr Gachugi’s blog has steadily acquired a following.

Mr Gachugi discusses simple aspects on his blog, such as the design of the road. He also records the roads’ progress that is marked with the opening of complete sections for use by the public.

He has also gone some way in examining the barriers put up at some of the complete sections, and in one case a street lamp whose location was apparently just being tested.

The third-year student also tracks the performance of the companies working on the road: China Wu Yi, Sinohydro Corporation and Sheng Li Engineering, and their Kenyan sub-contractors.

Mr Gachugi gets information on the progress from discussions with engineers on site, which he combines with photographs. With the help of three friends, he then puts it on the blog.

The blog also attempts to simplify for readers the work that is going on at such complex spots as the Pangani 3L overpass, which features an overpass, a tunnel and a road at ground level.

Pedestrians will also be catered for, with as many as 10 footbridges being put up.

Thika Road is unique from most other arteries into the city centre as motorists will not suffer the inconvenience of waiting at roundabouts and intersections.

With China cited as the largest source of counterfeit and substandard goods, the question at the back of the minds of many a Kenyan has been whether the road is of the right quality and whether it will last.

Mr Gachugi says it should, given the attention paid to detail, and the many times he has seen sections redesigned and rebuilt, although only time will tell.

But the student objects to the use of the term “super-highway” to describe the road, which he contends is much smaller than the larger autobahns of Germany or interstate roads in the United States.

With eight lanes and the additional two lanes on either side, Mr Gachugi contends that Thika Road should just be called a “motorway or a highway.”

“The Chinese brought us a simple highway, one that we have never seen before. To us, it is a super-highway,” he said.

The expansion has prompted the police to toy with the idea of forcing Kenyan drivers to undergo refresher courses on the highway code.

The Motorists Association of Kenya has produced a 31-page booklet that, in simple language, gives motorists simple tips on how to use the improved road.

Transport minister Amos Kimunya has in the past suggested that Kenyan drivers would have to undertake refresher courses if they are to use Thika Road without getting involved in too many accidents.