On a normal working day, Mercy Wacera would wake up at 5 a.m. and leave her Kahawa West house before 6 a.m. because the traffic jam on Thika Road from Roysambu to the city centre turned the 10-kilometre stretch into a two-hour odyssey.
Some evenings it would be really bad, and she recalls getting home as late as 11pm. “On such occasions I would start asking myself what I am really doing in the city. I often desperately dreamt of getting a job in a small countryside town,” she says.
She wasn’t alone in this suffering. Over the years Thika Road had evolved into the perfect nightmare for commuters and motorists.
“If I left the house at 5.30 a.m. when traffic was light, I would be in town by 6.15 a.m. Since my workplace opens at eight I would spend nearly two hours reading newspapers in restaurants and incurring unnecessary costs. When I couldn’t afford this luxury, I would wander aimlessly in town,” says Paul Osigi of Zimmerman.
But that was then. Today the situation on the same road is much better. The Thika Superhighway is almost complete, and the sections that have been opened have ushered in a dramatically new era for daily users of the road.
“It is a whole new experience,” Ms Wacera says. “These days it takes 20 minutes to get to town. I wake up at half past six and leave the house at half past seven, drop my son at a day care centre in the neighbourhood and still get to work on time.
The new joy and optimism is shared by business people operating on the new Thika Superhighway who, less than a year ago would struggle to stay in business as customers from other parts of Nairobi studiously avoided Thika Road.
“The traffic jam used to play havoc with our logistics,” says Mr Young K. Roh, the managing director of Safari Park Hotel & Casino. “Sometimes when we had foreign guests flying out, we would be forced to wake them up very early for their departure to create time for the two hours’ drive to the airport.”
Mr Roh says this is now a thing of the past. The Thika Superhighway connects with the Eastern Bypass that links up with Mombasa Road near JKIA. It takes just 20 minutes to deliver a guest to the airport.
He adds that while the hotel’s biggest advantage is its serenity away from the town centre, the traffic on Thika Road was placing it at a disadvantage particularly for business lunches, cocktails and wedding parties.
“We have beautiful grounds and unique buildings that made us popular for photo shoots for wedding parties, but the chaotic road was making us unattractive. We are now getting full bookings.
Mary Wairimu of Thika is also celebrating the coming of the new road. “Nowadays I get to my destination faster, and I do not have to wake up before dawn to be in the city by 7.30 am,” says the public relations graduate.Besides, she is happy that matatu fares have since dropped from a high of Sh150 from Thika to Nairobi to between Sh80 and Sh100. The new road has attracted new investments including shopping malls and housing estates. These are, in turn, expected to create smaller auxiliary business outlets.
The highway is divided into three lots: Lot 1, financed by African Development Bank, is 12.43 kilometres up to Muthaiga and was built by China Wu Yi Co. Lot 2, also financed by the AfDB, starts runs from Muthaiga to Kenyatta University and is 14.10 kilometres long. The contractor is Sinohydro.Lot 3 goes from KU to Blue Posts, a total of 23.88 kilometres; the contractor is Shengli Engineering. Funding for this segment comes from the Chinese Government and the Government of Kenya.
AfDB’s East Africa Resource Centre Regional Director Gabriel Negatu says the project aims to contribute to the improvement of the transport infrastructure in Nairobi and the opening up of the corridor leading to Ethiopia as part of integration efforts.