US firm inks deal to build Kenya’s first high-speed highway

Bechtel recently opened its Africa office in Nairobi.
Bechtel recently opened its Africa office in Nairobi. PHOTO/FILE
After months of high level talks, Kenya has finally signed a Sh230 billion deal with California-based Bechtel International Inc. for the construction of a 473-kilometre high-speed highway from Nairobi to Mombasa.

According to Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) director general Peter Mundinia, the signing of the commercial agreement paves the way for the next stage of mobilising funds from US export credit agencies.

“Bechtel has been selected to build the first high-speed expressway in Kenya. The new 473-kilometre route will vastly improve the connectivity, efficiency and the safety of the road between Nairobi and the country’s main sea port of Mombasa,” Mr Mundinia said in a press statement.

Credit agencies such as the US Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) have been fronting Bechtel for the job, in a development that is expected to unsettle Chinese multinationals that have been eyeing the project.

The controlled-access Mombasa-Nairobi expressway is designed for steady speeds of 120 kilometres per hour, reducing the flight time between the cities from the current ten hours to about four hours.

“It will have four lanes with provision for future increase to six lanes and 19 interchanges,” Mr Mundinia said, adding that motorists using the thruway will be required to pay toll fees.

The Nairobi-Mombasa high-speed highway project has been structured to accomplish early completion under a fast-track delivery model that allows simultaneous design and construction.

“It is projected under the proposed commercial contract that the 473km highway will be completed in ten sections within the next six years,” Mr Mundinia said.

The first section, from the junction with Namanga Road near Kitengela will have an interchange near Konza ICT City and a spur road to Kyumvi (Machakos Turnoff) on Mombasa Road. This section is anticipated to open to traffic in October 2019.

Bechtel, which is one of the biggest engineering and construction firms in the world, recently opened its Africa office in Nairobi from where it plans to blast-off its fights for mega projects in the continent.

READ: Battle for road tenders hots up as US giant opens Nairobi office

Bechtel’s entry – together with its financial patronage by the US Exim Bank – is expected to complicate matters for Chinese multinationals who have been winning tenders for local projects due to their monetary support from the China Exim Bank.