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Paving the way for a brighter future

Updated: 2015-03-27 09:19
By Philip Etyang (China Daily Africa)

Major Kenyan road project heralds economic growth potential

Residents of five counties in western Kenya are looking forward to the potential economic growth of the region once modernization work on a major highway is completed in the next 12 months.

Kenya National Highways Authority is undertaking the modernization of the 147-kilometer road network, which traverses Kisumu, Vihiga, Kakamega, Bungoma and Trans Nzoi counties.

Paving the way for a brighter future

Excavation work on the Kitale Webuye road being done by Jiangxi Zhongmei Engineering Construction Co. Philip Etyang / For China Daily

Paving the way for a brighter future

Iryne Musolongwa, a housewife and resident of Kiungani area, says she does not have a major problem with dust because the contractor often waters the road. Philip Etyang / For China Daily

The project is one of the national government's key development objectives, outlined in the Vision 2030 blueprint proposals.

The five counties, all in the western circuit, provide most of the food that feeds the country, as well as exporting to Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

The project involves the expansion of the existing road, construction of service and access roads, erecting interchanges and pedestrian crossings at several locations as well as building drainage and market loops at Kiminini, Kamukuywa, Maliki, Sikhendu, Lugulu, Matunda and Chwele shopping centers along the route.

China's Jiangxi Zhongmei Engineering Construction Co has been contracted by the Kenyan roads authority to undertake modernization work on a 58-kilometer stretch of the class A road between Kitale town in Trans Nzoia and Webuye in Bungoma. Two other contractors are handling the Kisumu-Kakamgea section, and the Kakamega to Webuye road.

Construction work on the major highway started in January 2013 and was expected to last 24 months. However, several challenges such as rugged terrain and scarcity of building materials have delayed the project.

Paving the way for a brighter future

Speaking at his Kitale office, Jiangxi Zhongmei Engineering Construction Co's project manager for the road, Deng Yulong, says work is now 70 percent complete and the remaining section should be completed in the next few months.

The Jiangxi Zhongmei Engineering Construction Co site office is located next to Kitale Airport. Chinese workers stay inside the compound, which has recreational facilities such as basketball and football courts.

Deng says the road corridor is being expanded from the current nine meters to 11 meters, while the carriageway will be expanded to seven meters from the current five meters, complete with hard shoulders of two meters on either side. Some sections on the route will be upgraded to a dual carriageway. This improvement will significantly reduce road accidents common on the road, as vehicles, motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians will have sufficient space.

Motorbikes and bicycles are the most common means of transport in West, Nyanza, Rift and Central Kenya.

Deng says they are using earthmovers to dig out the old road, while at the same time extending the foundation to six meters. The dug-out sections of the road are being filled with rocks, boulders and red soil.

The total cost of the section between Kitale and Webuye towns is approximately KSh3.3 billion ($33 million). The Kenyan government is financing 40 percent of the project and the World Bank is funding the remaining 60 percent, which will see the road brought up to international standards. The World Bank released $40.4 billion for the upgrade of key roads in western Kenya through the Transport Sector Support Project program. The project's main objective is to increase efficiency of road transport along the Northern Corridor and the Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan corridor.

The Kitale-Webuye road, a beneficiary of this ambitious modernization program, is important in the region because it links Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia. Farm produce, especially onions, tomatoes and spinach, find their way to neighboring countries through the Kitale -Webuye road before linking with the main A104 Northern Corridor.

The A104 stretches from Mombasa county on the coast to Kigali in Rwanda through Tanzania and Uganda before heading to Sudan, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Burundi. Jiangxi Zhongmei Engineering Construction Co will construct an interchange at the current junction with the road to make it easy for traffic to filter onto the busy highway.

Deng also revealed that over 100 local residents had been employed to undertake the project and Chinese employees numbered only 20. Previously, residents from areas where project works were being undertaken by foreign contractors protested against their exclusion from employment opportunities resulting from the projects.

Paving the way for a brighter future

The China Road and Bridge Company, which is undertaking the construction of the standard gauge railway from Mombasa, shipped in 5,000 Chinese workers to undertake work on the major line. The company however, employed more than 10,000 locals to work alongside the Chinese.

"Apart from the challenges, the construction work of the road has gone smoothly so far with the Kenyan National Highways Authority and the road engineers - Egis International - being very resourceful in the course of our work," Deng says.

Kitale and Webuye are arguably the most fertile areas in western Kenya with soil composition being mainly red soil. Road construction in the area has led to high levels of air pollution resulting from dust emitted from the busy diversion and the ongoing road construction.

Iryne Musolongwa, a 22-year-old housewife from Kiungani area along the road's route, says the road contractor must be spending a considerable amount of time and resources in mitigating air pollution.

"My homestead is located right next to the road diversion. I, however, have not had a major problem with dust because the contractor waters the road every so often," she says.

She further reveals that part of her eucalyptus tree plantation and kitchen garden, which were on the road reserve, were cleared to pave the way for the construction of the diversion.

Moses Wafula, another resident from Kiminini shopping center, and a fuel attendant at one of the fuel stations in the area, says business had fallen away because of the road construction. He says once the road was complete, more traffic will start plying the route, greatly improving the economy of the region.

Joseph Elungata, a maize farmer from Kitale town, says the new road will greatly increase the flow of traffic in and out of the town.

"I transport my maize to Webuye and Bungoma towns through the Kitale-Webuye road every so often. Once the road is complete, it will take me half the time I spend now to reach Bungoma," he says.

Deng says the section between Kiminini Shopping Center and Park Villa Hotel in Webuye town had already been opened to traffic and the time drivers used to spend on the section of the road before the upgrade has been greatly reduced.

The section that has been opened for traffic is not yet complete, as it is yet to be properly marked and to have road furniture installed.

Public transport operators on the route have welcomed the move by the contractor to open the section of the road to traffic.

"We now spend very little time and energy to drive to and from Kitale," Richard Wanyama, a taxi driver on the highway, says.

For China Daily

(China Daily Africa Weekly 03/27/2015 page19)

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