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Bondo Upgrade: This Drive Is Probably Road
With The Highest Density Of Bumps In Kenya

Coastweek -- Kachumbari was recently in the western region of the country. After landing at the airport in Kisumu or Winam (translated loosely means head of the lake), as the locals call it, he decided to head out towards the border town of Busia for some business, writes Teti Kamugunda.

Not having been in those parts for several years, he was pleasantly surprised to find that there were many positive changes on the road infrastructure that has not being sung about nationally.

Presumably these changes were not politically significant to warrant much song and dance like the SGR, the medical equipment supplies to the major hospitals or the Mombasa port and the developments therein.

The first item was the bypass round the lakeside city.

This has made life so much easier for through traffic as has the dualling of the road into the city.

However, chaos starts as traffic tails back during peak times where the dual carriageways end in the city.

This is exactly the same as happens in Nairobi – the Thika Highway is heaven till one gets close to the centre of Nairobi then all the jams and queues kick in immediately.

It is time that the road development planners work from the city centre outwards and “roundwards” when designing new infrastructure.

In order to realise the benefits of infrastructure improvements it is necessary to ensure that one development does not create or just postpone another bottleneck.

The Kisumu bypass project works for those going round it but not those going into the town.

The only big criticism about the bypass per se is the access and egress at both ends.

The ramps are steep, narrow and very tight.

In fact there have been a few cases of vehicles falling off from the elevated parts at the ends of the bypass due to the architecture of the infrastructure.

Though the bypass is relatively new, it is urgent that the designers and owners of the infrastructure, namely KENHA, look at improving the structures at the ends of the bypass in order to enhance safety and passage times.

Heading out towards Busia there has been a quantum change in the quality of the road surface, but only as far as Kisian which is about twelve kilometres from the centre of the city.

This twelve kilometres in the busiest part of that road because it carries all the traffic to Kisian where there is a major branch on the road and the traffic is split with a significant portion of the heavy vehicles as well as traffic heading for the border town of Busia.

The branch to Bondo takes a lot of the medium to light vehicles.

The twelve kilometre stretch has at least been done properly.

In the last twenty years, there were major “upgrades” done on this stretch of the road every five years and they would not last.

There was a question mark about the quality of the implementation to the extent that most people believed it was one of those projects that were regularly repeated so people involved could “eat” from the road.

It could also have been a lack of funding to properly execute a long lasting upgrade of this section of road.

Suffice to say that this time it looks impressive.

It has however also created a couple of firsts in the county and probably across the whole country.

The first “first” is the density of bumps per kilometre of road – and this is counting the large bumps not the smaller rumble strips. Kachumbari counted eighteen bumps in a ten kilometre section of that road.

I have travelled a lot around the country and I tend to agree with him that this is probably the road with the highest density of bumps or if not the longest continuous stretch of road with a high density of bumps.

The good thing about these bumps is that they have been constructed so that one can drive at fifty kilometres over them without causing major damage to the suspension of the vehicle.

Even large articulated vehicles can travel at a safe speed across the bumps.

The designers deserve to be congratulated for this.

If any driver loses control or causes fatalities in this sector then it is because they have exceeded the speed limit set for the twelve kilometre section of road and which the bumps do not undermine.

I will have no sympathy with a driver who either totals his vehicle or himself on this stretch of road.

The second “first” is in the number of petrol stations built or being built in the same stretch.

I counted last week and came up with eight petrol stations on the same stretch of road.

None of these stations is the typical jua kali “one or two pumps on a dusty forecourt” type.

They are pukka stations properly built with paved forecourts, canopies, shops and quick service centres.

They are serious investments.

The only worry in this case is that they may not be able to return the investment to the owners, again because of the density over the twelve kilometres – but I may be wrong.

This kind of density is the one that causes the operators of the stations (not necessarily the owners) to start seeking ways to enhance margins and the easiest is to look for and sell adulterated fuel to unsuspecting customers.

Those who fuel there should always get out and stand near the fuelling point as their vehicles are being fuelled and smell out for the distinctive smell of kerosene (or paraffin as we like to call it) which will indicate potential adulteration.

One can then immediately ask for a test on eth fuel and if the station cannot do one then move on and find a station that can do so.

They must have a gravimeter to be able to demonstrate that the fuel is unadulterated.

The usual collateral developments found when a bypass is constructed have started to kick in and we urge all county governments and national agencies to come up with strict rules about what can and cannot happen in the vicinity of major roads and indeed eventually all roads.

These should then be ruthlessly enforced.

We have written about this in the distant past and it will be worth looking at this again soon and especially when I get the answers to questions that I have asked the agencies responsible for roads.

Going beyond Kisian on towards Busia, one finds the same story that used to be talked about concerning the first twelve kilometres.

All along the hundred or so kilometres, there are various repair and upgrading works going on and they will look good when done or are looking good at the moment.

However, considering what is being done and how it is being done, it is likely that the investment, even if just repairs, may not last beyond the annual cycle of rainy seasons.

A little bit of top dressing and re-carpeting here, some road edge clean up and tarmacking, putting culverts to improve drainage without fully extending the channels, erecting bumps without drainage considerations – the list is long.

As Kachumbari says, doing little things right the first time will make a big right in the long term.

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