The Nairobi-Thika Corridor (also called the Thika Road) is in the northeast of the Nairobi Metropolitan Region and extends from Nairobi City Center to Thika District. The trunk road currently serves as a main cargo route and an important metropolitan, regional and international transit link and is part of the classified international A2 trunk road, which originates in Nairobi City Center and extends to Moyale, Ethiopia. The road also acts as a main artery for various satellite towns and economic hubs that lie along and near the corridor, including Ruaraka, Kasarani, Kiambu Town, Githurai, Ruiru, Juja and Thika.
Thika Road is one of the most traveled corridors in the Nairobi Metropolitan Region. A 2006 traffic count revealed that Nairobi-Thika Road carries around 70,000 vehicles per day, the highest in the East African Region (JICA 2006). The problems currently plaguing commuters, residents and business owners along Thika Road including heavy congestion, dilapidated infrastructure, poor air quality, and high accident and fatality rates, are illustrative of the broader urban transportation problems that characterize the entire metropolitan area.
In December 2009, the much-anticipated Nairobi-Thika Highway Improvement Project broke ground. The upgrading project is intended to transform the old dual carriage 45 km (28 mile) Thika roadway into Kenya’s first super highway. It aims to address the problems of congestion, traffic accidents and air pollution and improve economic development. Improving this vital transport corridor is an important infrastructure project for the Government of Kenya (GoK) and is partially funded by the African Development Bank Group (ADB) as well as the Government of China through loans.
The rationale and articulated vision behind the project is to improve the economic productivity and mobility of those living along the road while transforming Thika Road into part of a Great North Trans-African Highway from Cape Town to Cairo, facilitating regional trade and economic development. According to the GoK and reports by the ADF, the rehabilitation and redevelopment of the road is expected to accelerate economic opportunities throughout Kenya and will reach multiple groups and stakeholders. The users of the road will benefit from reduced travel times. Heavy freight that transport goods to other towns and even across borders will benefit from the reduced travel times due to the separation of local and thruway traffic as well as the improved surfacing and design of the road. In addition, by providing local and express through-lanes and accessible public transit the highway is expected to reduce average travel time during peak hours. It is stated in these reports that the accident rate will decrease along with a reduction in the average cost of public transit along this corridor (ADF Appraisal Report 2007).
The GoK and ADF also argue that there will be positive environmental and social impacts with a reduction of toxic vehicular emissions from idling vehicles during traffic jams, reduced accidents which will improve fatality and injury rates, reduced risks to the soil and water resulting from spills from heavy trucks transporting goods, and lastly reduced congestion leading to an improved quality of life with increased productivity and personal safety. The challenge here is to ensure that the goals of enhancing local well-being and the goals of serving international commerce are compatible. The concern now is that in serving international commerce the local needs of metropolitan Nairobi could be compromised.