Nairobi — The government is embarking on an initiative that provides operation and maintenance of the Nairobi-Thika Highway through Private Sector Participation.
The initiative aims at ensuring the upkeep and required level of service on the road, while bridging the gap between the current infrastructure investment fund and the amount required.
Speaking at the official launch of the superhighway, which was commissioned by President Mwai Kibaki, Roads Minister Franklin Bett said that the maintenance initiative would be a responsibility for all Kenyans.
"When the road is not good, people drive slowly, when the road is good, they tend to drive fast, while others overload their vehicles, damaging the roads and bridges within a short time," he said.
"The government has had to spend a lot of money, saved for the development of other sectors, to repair and maintain roads and bridges. I therefore want to caution motorists, especially heavy vehicles, to observe stipulated load limits and vehicle weights," he explained.
Bett emphasised the fact that it is the duty of Kenyans, collectively, to preserve the investment on roads for long term and sustainable transportation.
Finance Minister Robinson Githae added that the construction and maintenance of the country's road network accounts for the highest allocation in the budget.
"Taking into account limited public resources, the government will rely on the private sector to meet the economy's resource requirements while developing the appropriate market environment to promote efficiency," he said.
"This calls for the fast implementation of the privatisation program, the provision of private sector participation in infrastructure development under a robust public-private partnership agenda, the promotion of appropriate regulation of private sector activity and the provision of greater private sector access to finance," he explained.
To help fund road maintenance, Bett confirmed that his ministry has proposed the imposition of toll rates for users of the Thika road motorway to raise funds for the maintenance of the Sh30 billion highway.
"Highway tolls are the way to go and we have proposed this concept. It is important that Kenyans prepare for it," he said.
"The actual amount to be charged on vehicles moving on the highway will be determined at a later stage," he added.
The minister revealed the concept could be in place in two years, explaining that all the major highways around the world are on toll management.
If introduced, the government could collect millions of shillings daily from the close to 80,000 estimated road users who drive on the highway every day.
Although fees are yet to be determined, traditional toll stations charge vehicles by type and in the case of heavy load trucks; the fee is determined by the number of axles, wheels and height of the truck.
President Kibaki said: "The government has done its part in providing a good road; we must now also do our part because a good road, without being utilised well, will not translate into any change on our lives."
"We must protect the investments mad on the road by preserving the furniture, observing courtesy and respecting the road reserves," he added.
Kibaki was referring to the vandalism that has been seen on the highway, even before its construction was complete.
The Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) Director General Meshack Kidenda said that there was urgent need to address the issue of vandalism which could reverse some of the gains so far made.
"Vandalism is a big problem and it's going to be big on this road from what we're seeing, because even before the contractors moved out, we are seeing that people are coming to vandalise," he said.
"It's a national problem and we're seeing it not only on Thika Road, but on our other roads. Our appeal to all Kenyans is that they should respect this road because it doesn't belong to the contractor or the Kenya National Highways Authority. This is a national asset and we want to appeal to them to protect it," he explained.
The superhighway, which forms part of the Trans Africa roads network linking destinations in Somalia and Ethiopia with Nairobi, is expected to enhance transport services and urban mobility by reducing general transport costs, improve accessibility to public transportation, employment opportunities, housing and recreation activities.
Travel times between Thika Town and Nairobi will be reduced from about 1-2 hours prior to the construction to barely 30 minutes.
In addition the maintenance initiative, KeNHA has also embarked on a road safety awareness campaign aimed at educating the public on road safety measures.
The 50 kilometre superhighway is the first of its kind in the Eastern African region and it was built through a joint funding by the Government of Kenya, the African Development Bank and the People's Republic of China.