Hardly a Thursday passes without a Kenyan on social media posting contrasting photographs of Thika Road, before and after its upgrade.
The old pictures often show a road choking with traffic and potholes, a far cry from the present eight-lane superhighway.
Thursday marked exactly five years since President Mwai Kibaki officially opened the road, one of the country’s most significant infrastructure projects.
What everyone agrees on when discussing the 50-kilometre superhighway is the impact it has had on the economy.
Consultancy firm Cytonn Investments said the mushrooming of malls along the highway has made the corridor a major force in terms of retail space.
“Thika Superhigway has the second largest supply of retail space in Nairobi with a market share of 13 per cent, only behind Kiambu and Limuru roads, which have a market share of 16 per cent,” Ms Nancy Murule, Cytonn’s research analyst, told the Sunday Nation.
Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said the many vehicles that use the superhighway during rush hours are proof that its intended purpose is being realised.
“The number of cars has gone up because of the level of development that has taken place. That’s why today, if you drive from Nairobi towards Thika, around 8 o’clock, the jam has gone back all the way to Safari Park. I think that, in a way, is a good thing. It demonstrates that, indeed, this highway did attract a lot of investment,” he told the Sunday Nation last week.
But it is not a rosy picture all through.
National Transport and Safety Authority’s last published statistics show that the road registers the second highest number of deaths through accidents after the Nairobi-Mombasa highway.
NTSA’s 2015 road status report shows that it had 61 fatalities, compared to 251 recorded on the Nairobi-Mombasa stretch that is nine times longer.
Daily crash reports posted on the NTSA website show that the most recent deadly accident to have happened on the superhighway occurred near the Roasters bus stage on September 6, when 10 people died. The accident involved two public service vehicles and a lorry.
The matter of crashes is of concern. When Mr Kibaki inaugurated the road, he regretted that 3,000 people were then dying on Kenyan roads annually due to accidents.
“Most of these accidents are a result of lack of discipline by drivers and motorcycle riders. All road users across our country must abide by the highway code and exercise caution and patience,” he said.
Mr Macharia, who said he had driven on the Thika Superhighway a number of times, blamed Kenyan drivers for many of the crashes.
“Kenyans are some of the most reckless drivers. You wonder where they went to school for driving,” he said.
“You see a truck in the fast lane yet it’s supposed to be in the slow one,” added the Transport minister.
The carnage aside, observers are wondering whether there are engineering faults in some sections of the superhighway, which causes massive amounts of water to accumulate on the road whenever there is a downpour.
“The completed road has shown signs of poor drainage during the rainy season, which has raised several questions about the construction of the road by the Chinese contractors,” Kenyatta University student Eva Muthoni says in a 2014 report she compiled as part of her coursework for a Bachelor of Environmental Planning degree.
Dumping of solid waste by road users may be considered a contributor to the flooding but usually there is a team that collects garbage from the road.
Picking of litter is one of the responsibilities of the contractors, who are paid by taxpayers to take care of the road on a 24-hour basis, under the supervision of the Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha).
A Kenha tender document relating to the maintenance of the superhighway says one of the roles of the contractor is “keeping drains free of obstructions, clearing vegetation and obstructions from water courses and maintaining free flow”.
Other responsibilities include the repair of cracks and potholes as well as maintenance of traffic signs.
Kenha, in 2014, awarded the contract to Ms Sinhydro Joint Venture.
It was to last two years and was worth Sh1.1 billion.