Residents of Kitui South are celebrating after the constituency got its first inch of tarmac road since Independence.
The Kibwezi-Kitui road project, whose construction was launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta in December 2016, finally crossed the border of Makueni and Kitui counties at Athi Market last week, triggering celebrations among the locals.
Until the milestone for the international trunk highway was achieved, the constituency did not have any tarmac road and residents have waited 55 years to see one.
The Sh18.4 billion road project, which cuts across eight other constituencies, is situated in lower eastern region, starting at the junction of the Nairobi-Mombasa road near Kibwezi Town. It runs northward via Ikutha, Mutomo, Kitui, Kabati and ends at Migwani.
Kitui South residents were ecstatic because, they said, they felt successive governments had marginalised the area for decades by failing to develop its infrastructure.
Kitui South MP Rachael Kaki Nyamai, who toured the road section, said residents were happy with the progress of the project and grateful to President Uhuru Kenyatta's administration for keeping his campaign pledge to tarmac the road.
"We are happy that this important infrastructure development is happening in our time because it will open Kitui South to the world," the MP told journalists after taking a 1km walk along the new highway near Athi Market.
Ms Nyamai said once complete, the upgrading of the road to bitumen standard would facilitate faster movement of goods and services and unlock the economic potential of Makueni and Kitui counties.
"This road will enhance trade, especially transportation of agricultural produce in the region, by serving the surrounding towns more efficiently and also boost tourism in Tsavo East National Park and Kitui South Game Reserve, exploitation of coal deposits at Mui Basin, limestone mining at Mutomo and iron ore at Ikutha," she said.
The MP said the project was the Jubilee administration's number one pledge to the Kamba community and urged the contractor - Sinohydro Corporation - to complete it within the stipulated timelines.
According to a progress report by the Kenya National Highways Authority seen by the Nation, major works have been undertaken including site clearance, top soil stripping, earthworks and improved subgrade.
The status report released by Kenha Director General Eng Peter Mundinia says the ambitious project to upgrade Kibwezi-Kitui-Kabati-Migwani road was on course and would be delivered within the set period of 42 months.
"The road is expected to offer alternative route from the Port of Mombasa to the Lower, Upper Eastern Regions and Ethiopia hence, decongesting the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway and improve the economic competitiveness of lower eastern counties," the report states.
The road forms part of the larger Mombasa-Addis Ababa Transport Corridor that links the Mombasa-Nairobi Highway (A8) at Kibwezi and the Nairobi-Addis Ababa Highway (A2) at Isiolo. It is an alternative shorter route to Moyale and ultimately Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
"The traffic to these areas from Mombasa will avoid going through Nairobi once the entire stretch to Isiolo via Mwingi and Mikinduri to join the Meru-Maua Road at Muriri is upgraded to bitumen standard," said the report.
The project suffered initial setbacks until the government provided its full share of the Sh840 million payable to the contractor.
The Export Import (Exim) Bank in China had insisted on the government paying its portion in full as a pre-condition to releasing their component of the loan.
In September 2016, the government agreed with Sinohydro contractors on a revised scope of works in which the length of road to be constructed increased to 192km for the same cost.