Did Ndogo Kundu By- pass cost $100M a kilometer?

Ndogo Kundu By-pass: an Aerial view:
Courtesy Kenha
 That would make it the most expensive road project in the world, beating Uganda’s Entebbe expressway by Kshs 100 million (US$1 million).  The Expressway was branded the most expensive road in the world by Uganda’s Parliamentary Committee on State Enterprises. The committee protested that “a kilometer of road cost an alleged $9.3 million.”

Of course, the politicians were wrong –either innocently or by design but mainly by design. It turned out that they wanted “to fix” a PS who refused to approve a two-week “bench-marking trip” for them. The Highway cost roughly $2.325 million per kilometer.

Back to Ndogo Kundu. Did a kilometer of road cost shs 1 billion?  Yes and No. Here is why: we are accustomed to counting the heads of cows to know how rich we are. Roads engineers count the legs to cost a road. So they come up with more legs than heads. There is more tarmacked road (the legs) than the distance (the cow).To that extent the answer is No, the road did not cost that much per Kilometre lane, that is, a cow’s leg. But it cost KES 1 billion if we add all the legs together.

Let’s leave the cows and legs analogy aside. Engineers cost roads in terms of Kilometre lanes. Well, you know it, there are very few one-lane- say one way- roads in the country. Many roads are two- way one lane going in one direction and the other going in the opposite direction. Those are cost as two Kilometre lanes where you see one road. Treat the yellow line in between as the boundary of each road.

 In the 2016/2017 annual report (PP10), the Kenya National Highways Authority, KENHA, uses the same method to estimate their output in terms of road construction progress. They have a column for distance in Kilometres and a column for work done in the financial year in terms of Kilometre lanes.
 For instance, the Rumuruti-Maralal road is 45 kilometers long, yet the Authority shows that it had done 81.5 Kilometre- lanes on the road. What this means simply is they had done a 40.75-kilometer distance of the road and that only 4.25 Kilometres were left and therefore the road was 91 percent done.

Now Ndogo Kundu is a dual carriageway, that is, a four-lane highway. Let’s for a moment forget the “Berlin wall” dividing the four lanes, and any service roads, bridges, and interchanges and concentrate on the lanes. There are four lanes, each 11 Kilometres long. How many Kilometres of tarmac road do we find on that section? Eleven Kilometres multiplied by four. That is 44 Kilometres. If we divided Kes 11 billion by 44 you get KES250 million per Kilometer lane or One billion shillings for four- lanes kilometer. Now if we add up the cost of any service roads, bridges, (I am told there is a 630 Metre long bridge) and the interchanges, then the cost per kilometer lane could be lower than Kshs 250 million.
The Entebbe expressway
If in doubt, take the 29-kilometer Southern bypass in Nairobi and do two-round trips on both lanes each way to Kikuyu or Mombasa road. Be sure to record the mileage on your dashboard at the start of the trip and record the distance after the two trips then subtract the initial count. See if you will get 29 kilometers or more.  The result will tell you how many kilometers of road, there is on that 29Km distance.
At this point, I must take the roads authorities to task on a poor job in terms of education to the public. They should anticipate the questions that will arise and do a good job of answering them. One way is giving full details of the works, the product, and the average cost.
There are Economists and Engineers among the officials in KENHA and KURA, who should give the communications department the right information. The division should also be proactive and advise on the sort of information to be released to the public. That is why it exists- to help in information dissemination not just to send pictures of the completed project.
KENHA and KURA do not exist primarily to tell us how smooth our roads will be and how easy our travel will be on completed roads. We know. That is secondary information. The primary information is how much the road cost, and why it cost that much. The taxpayer needs to know how much the services provided by the government cost and why. They want to know if they are getting value for money and if their money is being spent well.
We need to know how many lanes, per road, the cost per kilometer lane, the terrain of the location of the road, and how the terrain affects the cost of the road. How many bridges, the elevation of the road, if any.
The moral here is, to audit any engineering project objectively, we must start with the detailed design of the project for that is where the devil is; where costing is done, contract components are defined and justified.

The detailed design also shows the physical features of the project area and what has to be constructed where. For example it shows intersections, bridges, overpasses, service roads, pedestrian paths, culverts, drains, climbing lanes, bus stops, etc. in case of roads. 


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