Kenya is seeking to safeguard its position as the region's preferred entry point through big infrastructure projects aimed at easing the movement of goods and people on the Northern Corridor.
Three months after commissioning the standard gauge railway, the country has awarded the construction contract of the country's first expressway to an American company -- Bechtel International Inc.
The 473km expressway will connect to the proposed Nairobi-Nakuru-Mau Summit highway, thereby linking the Port of Mombasa to Malaba at the border with Uganda and onwards to Kampala.
It is expected to improve connectivity, efficiency and safety of road transport between Nairobi and Mombasa. The six-lane expressway will be constructed at a cost of $2.1 billion.
Uganda is already constructing the Kampala-Jinja Expressway, which forms part of the Northern Corridor.
Commercial and industrial growth
When completed over the next six years, the three projects will greatly improve the competitiveness of the Northern Corridor making it the preferred gateway not only for Kenya and Uganda but also for Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo.
"This expressway will enable Kenya to competitively develop and expand internal and regional trade," said director-general of the Kenya National Highways Authority. Peter Mundinia
He added that since more than 90 per cent of goods entering the East African region through the port of Mombasa are transported via road, the road project will lay the foundation for long term commercial and industrial growth.
Of note is that the three mega road projects that are being constructed at a total cost of $4.4 billion are being implemented under a public-private partnership programme.
The high-speed expressway will be financed by US Export Credit Agencies, US Export-Import Bank, UK Overseas Private Investment Corporation and UK Export Finance.
It is intended to complement the SGR that was commissioned in June in transforming the Nairobi-Mombasa corridor into a vibrant economic zone.
According to government projections, although SGR is expected to haul 60 per cent of cargo entering the port, majority will still be transported via road.
Over the past decade, Mombasa port has witnessed a significant growth in container traffic from 436,671 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2005 to 1.07 million TEUs last year.
In terms of tonnage, the port last year recorded a 2.4 per cent growth after handling 27.3 million tonnes compared with 26.7 million in 2015.
Although Bechtel is expected to design the expressway, the highway will be a controlled motorway with consistent speed of 120kph and will reduce the journey time between Mombasa and Nairobi from over 10 hours to under four hours.
"Bechtel has been working with the government of Kenya for over two years to develop this strategic infrastructure priority project, which will help unlock significant growth in Kenya and the region," said Craig Albert, president of Bechtel's global infrastructure business.
However, making the expressway a toll road has raised controversies in that it will add the burden on motorists who are already paying various levies and could result on rising transport costs for manufacturers and traders.
Currently transport cost accounts for around 30 per cent of the cost of goods and services across the region due to poor infrastructure and the thousands of man-hours lost in traffic.
The 2015 East Africa Logistics Performance Survey shows it cost an average of $2,500 to transport cargo on the Northern Corridor from Mombasa to Kampala.