A hump at the start and another at the end. Those are the only structures asking drivers to slow down on the Nairobi expressway. In-between is a 27-kilometre four-lane carriageway built along the median strips of Mombasa Road, Waiyaki Way and Uhuru Highway.
This is the Nairobi Expressway – one of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s signature projects, which was opened for public trial on Saturday morning.
Commissioned in October 2019, the road stretches from the western side of Nairobi, at Nairobi West toll gate, and arcs south-eastwards before terminating in Mlolongo.
The moment you begin to ascend to the Nairobi West toll gate is the time you begin to leave behind the chaos and the disorder that characterise busy city roads.
Even before anything else announces your location, it is the bilateral symmetry of the structures at the toll gate, which largely borrow from Chinese architecture, that snatches your attention.
The designs of the toll roofs borrow heavily from pagodas, the Chinese traditional buildings.
Beyond this area, you are now on the radar of whoever is manning the road. The signage “this facility is under CCTV surveillance 24/7” is the only give-away.
It is rush hour and buses to the city suburbs and ghettos are full. But things are very different at the toll station. There is meticulous order and everything is in its right place.
The elevated bit of the way begins at James Gichuru junction, and runs through the heart of the capital, along the Uhuru Highway. It slopes on approaching Ole Sereni Hotel. Haile Selassie Avenue, Kenyatta Avenue and University Way snake below the raised road.
Once perched on the new structure, the journey ahead promises to be thrilling.
There is promise of enough space for everyone.
Things are different on the roads below. It is a jungle where every soul scrambles for existence, space and survival in the stretched paths.
Even though overland, it feels more like being airborne.
A dash across the expressway treats you to a panoramic view of the city. From Villa Rosa Kempinski Hotel onwards, the view of the CBD is breath-taking and delightfully spectacular. The concrete jungle that is Nairobi appears in its full grandeur and splendour.
Save for the exits when you’re reminded to slow down, while a deck higher, you are encouraged to drive at 80kph. Nothing should block the lane leading to the toll gates.
“Once the vehicle’s number is scanned, the barrier lifts, giving way,” a marshal said.
It took us 50 minutes from Mlolongo to Haile Selassie on the ordinary road but just 15 from Haile Selassie to Nairobi East toll station in Mlolongo.
The sides at Dunhill Towers are shielded with bullet-proof glass – as is the case on portions of the road directly facing Parliament.
As the clock ticked towards the opening, every contractor seemed to be in a hurry to do the final touches. Some tended to the flowers, others were sweeping the lanes and trucks were watering the lanes.
At the Nairobi Expressway offices on Mombasa Road, Kenyans lined up to be served.
As soon as you disembark at Nairobi East, you are greeted with a handful of pedestrians crossing from one side of the road to the other. A footbridge is about 500 metres away. Then the last or the first hump, depending on the direction you’re headed and voila! You are either out or on the expressway.
Immediately you descend at Mlolongo toll, you come back to the cut-throat world – the reality of the world of struggles, gridlocks, road rage, matatu madness and all.
While Nairobi Expressway is an item of beauty, underneath are wilted flowers, overgrown untended grass and dangling pipes.
The beautification that began in February this year was meant to make the road fuse with the surrounding landscape and dissuade graffiti.
- This article was first published in Nation.Africa