The cost of building new roads has breached earlier limits set by the government, dealing a blow to concerted efforts to rein in unscrupulous contractors.
Infrastructure and Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia warned in 2016 that road building firms that had quoted bids of up to Sh300 million per kilometre under the State’s annuity programme would have to do with prices of between Sh90 million and Sh100 million.
And last year, the government said it had managed to achieve its own set limits, which would see a kilometre of a high tarmac road cost about Sh80 million down from Sh140 million, while a rural road costs about Sh35 million down from Sh70 million.
But an assessment by Nation of ongoing road projects across the country shows a majority of the crucial infrastructural projects have breached the ideal cost ceilings, raising concerns on why the costs have shot up, and whether the taxpayers can afford it.
A spot check by Nation shows several key roads under the various classifications have been built at a cost above the set caps in what has seen taxpayers dig deeper into their pockets.
As at last year, some 30 roads with a cumulative length of 1,547.6 kilometres were under construction at a total cost of Sh103.2 billion, according to the Economic Survey 2018.
They include the 192 kilometre Kibwezi-Mutomo-Kitui road being put up at a cost of Sh18.4 billion, which translates to Sh95.9 million per kilometre.
There is also the 19.6 kilometre Miritini — Mwache Kipevu Link Road being built at a cost of Sh12.6 billion, representing Sh64.7 million per kilometre.
The 135 kilometre Garsen-Lamu-Witu road is being built at a cost of Sh10.8 billion, which means each kilometre will use Sh80.5 million of the taxpayers' money.
The 32 kilometre Eldoret Bypass is being constructed at a cost of Sh5 billion, which translates to Sh158.7 million per kilometre.
The 47 kilometre Uplands Githunguri road is being built at a cost of Sh3.98 billion, meaning taxpayers have forked out Sh84.9 million per kilometre.
The 4.4 kilometre Karen road is being built at a cost of Sh585.9 million, representing Sh133.2 million per kilometre.
The 20 kilometre Athi — River Machakos turn off is being built at a cost of Sh5.28 billion, Sh264.4 million per kilometre.
The 13 kilometre Nairobi Outer Ring Road Improvement project set back taxpayers Sh7.3 billion on paper, translating to Sh568.9 million per kilometre.
The United States and Kenya have also agreed to build a 473 kilometre superhighway from Nairobi to Mombasa at a cost of Sh300 billion, meaning each kilometre would set back taxpayers Sh634.2 million.
On Wednesday, Mr Macharia maintained that the cost of some 150 ongoing road projects across the country is well within limits.
Mr Macharia insisted for instance that the government had capped the cost of all rural roads at Sh40 million per kilometre, adding that the ministry is striving to ensure contractors are honouring this.
The CS said the cost of other key highways had been set to commensurate with demands of the designs of each road.
Mr Macharia argued that meticulous road designs had in some cases led to higher costs for some key roads.
“We consider some roads like Outer Ring as a bridge and not just a road,” he said in an interview.
However, some experts linked what is emerging to be high costs of building a road per kilometre in recent years to possible inflation of prices.
“We cannot overrule corruption whether in overpricing of land compensation or overestimating of quantities of design with the aim of embezzlement of funds,” Truckers Association of Kenya Secretary-General Kennedy Karisa said.
“Politicians may influence overestimating or overbudgeting in order to put allowances for kickbacks.”
KPMG's Head of Infrastructure Hub for East Africa James Woodward, however, argued that the alternative public private partnership (PPP) model of building new roads is costlier compared to the EPC model adopted by Kenya when constructing the Sh32 billion 50 kilometre Thika Road.
“Thika Superhighway was built on an EPC model and not PPP, where contractors stay on board for about 25 years to maintain the road,” he said.