Gain and pain of Thika super highway
The new Thika super highway is taking shape. One can now appreciate the horizontal and vertical alignments for most sections. It will greatly promote business towards and beyond Thika. Businesses in Central Kenya, Upper Eastern and Northern Kenya will feel the ripple effects of the road.
Collectively, this will be a colossal national premium. The proposed housing conglomerates such as Tatu City around Ruiru and Thika Greens Golf Estate just beyond Thika will be key beneficiaries.
Many other high and middle level housing estates along and off the new super highway will be winners too. Driving to Nairobi from as far as Kenol in Maragua may take hardly 40 minutes once the highway is done.
It will perhaps take those who travel the stretch a lot shorter to hit Museum Hill than it will those from Karen, Lang’ata, Mlolongo, Embakasi and Burururu. But ironically, the highway brings with it losers too. Remember that this is a high speed road. One of the key features for such roads is a deliberate design attempt to minimise exits from and entries. And this is easy to understand. If the design allowed a myriad exit and entry points, the very purpose of the highway would be lost. Drivers would have to keep ramming brakes to avoid decelerating exit traffic and slow, even if accelerating, entry traffic. This would be a recipe for traffic chaos and accidents.
So it makes perfect design sense to minimise such traffic interruption points. And the few must be designed to allow efficient exit and entry. For this reason, the exit and entry lanes tend to be quite long so as to allow for traffic deceleration and acceleration off and into the highway respectively. But this is precisely the feature which kills many business points off the new super highway. Highway traffic simply zooms past with little chance that a driver would give any serious thought to pulling off for any reason short of a breakdown.
For this reason, outlets such as roadside pubs, petrol stations, restaurants and even some general businesses established to primarily tap business from highway consumers will lose out.
In fact, a look at their display boards reveals that their key focus was the highway. Many of these will have to relocate, close or adjust to diminished returns. The previous road design allowed drivers to easily pull off the highway for a quick soda, food or drink. It was also easy to pick up fruits. One could refuel in any of the Petrol Stations lining the highway from the Roasters Inn junction all the way to Thika. This will no longer be easy.
The new super highway simply “flies over” most of these roadside business points right from the Kenya Breweries stretch. Businesses will henceforth have to mainly bank on internal consumers from the surrounding estates or, for leisure points, those deliberately headed there.
Also affected are those who had set their homes conveniently far off the previous highway but have suddenly found themselves right next and exposed to the expanded highway. Others will be required to take extra distances to access their homes. Such people, particularly those who dread noise and exposure to travellers, are counting loses. Perhaps lessons learnt here will help investors and road design teams to improve decisions on similar future projects.