Watch out for lavish development projects

Railway Lines substitutes roads transport
CHINA IS FIRMLY ESTABLISHED as a leading development partner for Africa. This development has jolted development partners in the West who are adopting China’s no frills business model, so popular with Africa. 

This competition is opening up the purse strings as never before. Development aid is flowing to Africa in fast and furious manner. This is a good thing. It is also risky and dangerous.  

The danger is; as China takes the front seat in development of Africa, others, especially the West,”will want to catch up.” Herein lies the danger: in a bid to catch some financiers may drop their guard, funding any project that comes their way.  It also some professional excited about availability of funds, could easily come up with grandiose projects.

That Africa needs huge investment in solid infrastructure is not in doubt. The continent needs roads, railway lines, sea ports to open up itself for trade and development. In fact, the short cut to increased and sustainable intra-Africa trade is through transport infrastructure.

But Africa’s agenda must be clearly defined and strictly adhered to avoid wastage.  There should be no “room for catch-up financiers.” Those that feel left out and want to be relevant in Africa.

Development projects are fit in three categories,  either complementary,  vertical progression or substitutes.

Mombasa Southern by pas: Complements Port exapnsion
In vertical progression, the completion of one phase leads to another. For instance, drilling of Ports to deepen them is followed by expansion of the Port’s facilities such as terminal to accommodate increased output. Expansion of airport termini will lead to demand for additional runways, parking lots and taxi-ways.

Complementary projects are projects that support the efficiency of a development project but are not exclusively for use by the previous project. For instance a wider road serving a sea port is complementary in that it eases traffic flow from the Port but it also used by other motorist who perhaps have no business at the Port.  

The Southern by-pass in Mombasa is a complementary project of the Mombasa Port. But the Kipevu link road, which originates from the Port linking it to the by-pass, is a vertical project. The link shall be exclusively used for Port operations. Railway lines linking the Port to the main Kenya-Uganda line are vertical projects. But the main line is a complementary line.

The upgrading of the Lunatic express –the Kenya –Uganda Railway to standard  gauge is substitutive in that it plans  much of freight cargo from the Mombasa Port to in land destination from roads to rail transport. The urban Railways commuters services are  similarly substitutive in that they  will transfer much of passenger traffic from road to rail.

It is on the basis of complementarity and verticality or substitutability that projects should be evaluated. And it is on this basis that questions are being voiced over the the proposed Nairobi 50Km Nairobi double -decker road. There are conflicting reports over where the road begins and where it will end. It is also not clear whether the road is a PPP project or it is a public project.

Initial reports indicated that the viaduct will begin at St. James junction near South C estate. However, other reports indicate it shall be extended to Embakasi Junction, five Kilometres away. Whatever the case, the road is justified on the basis of easing congestion on the Mombasa road/Uhuru highway and the Nairobi CBD.

At this point question arise. The Nairobi southern by-pass already under construction will divert unnecessary traffic from the CBD. It will originate from Mombasa road at the St. James junction and connect Nakuru highway at Rironi in Kiambu County, more than 30 KM away.

In addition, a Railway commuter service is already in advanced stages of development. A contract is out for a construction of a 5KM line and a Railway station at the JKI airport.  The Major link station, the Syokimau Railway station is already complete and is due for commissioning this week. 

  According to Kenya railways Officials, the JKIA- city centre route will be served by two high speed trains each drawing six coaches wagons. Trains have a capacity of carrying 1200 passengers on a  20-minute trip from the Airport to the CBD.

Studies show that, the dominant vehicle mode are cars followed by 14 seater- public service vehicles. These are generally low density vehicles. The studies show that most motorists would leave their cars at home if provided with a reliable and safe mode of transport. A commuter train fits the bill.

The trains will carry 1200 passengers per trip.  This would remove at least 200 vehicles from the road per trip. Since Mombasa road traffic density is just about 3000 vehicles per hour, the commuter train will eliminate about 500 vehicles per hour. Given that the Southern- by pass will divert an estimated 100 vehicles or more per hour, then the double decker road becomes a white elephant.

 It may never reach its design capacity at all. Documents seen by this publication show some doubt regarding the viability of the project. It says that the government will not charge license fees until the project’s IRR has reached 23 per cent.
As Kenya Railways extends commuter services to the southern suburbs of Ngong,  Rongai and adjoin areas. Traffic on Langata road will also ease. The effect will be the same once the services are extended to the Western suburbs of Kikuyu, Westlands and adjoining areas.
Investment in the double decker road beats the  sacrifice logic. While we save and invest so that we can enjoy more and better goods and services in future, the World Bank funded project does not fit the bill. We may be stuck with a US$250 million white elephant in future. 


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