The quick assurance by the government that not an inch of Nairobi’s Uhuru Park will be carved out for construction of an expressway from JKIA to the Westlands suburb should lay to rest public anxiety over the project.
However, without full disclosure on how the design is going to be rejigged, the assurance will still leave some doubts lingering in the minds of Doubting Thomases.
There has been a public outcry following reports that 1.3 acres of the park would be hived off for construction of the road. If that was the initial plan, it was the second attempt to invade and drastically interfere with this prime spot in the city.
The first, in the 1990s, was fought off successfully by the late environmental conservation icon, Prof Wangari Maathai.
It is, therefore, quite encouraging to note that the official response to the outrage has come from none other than Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia. This is a welcome gesture and an assurance that the government listens to the concerns of its citizens.
Also, this is a big infrastructure project financed, like many others, by foreign loans. Such projects will eventually become a burden on the taxpayer as the country begins to repay them.
The cost of the new highway is estimated to be a whopping Sh59.9 billion through a public-private partnership. Some 25,000 motorists will pay for its use at a cost of Sh11.24 per kilometre, with the entire distance costing Sh300 per car.
This is a massive undertaking with no major immediate returns. It is, therefore, essential that the people are not forced to shoulder the heavy double-burden of loan repayments and meeting the high cost of operations.
Granted, the expressway is meant to be a pay-for-use project to ease endemic traffic congestion in the city, but it is these same Kenyans who will have to fork out the high charges to enable the cost of construction to be recouped.
This is precisely why it is important for these projects to be rationalised.
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