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A section of a road in Meru County being constructed using probase technology. (PHOTO by NATION MEDIA GROUP)  

Road infrastructure is one of the key components of communication and development of nations. The Kenya Vision 2030 aspires for a country with integrated roads, interconnected railways, communication ports, airports, infrastructure Waterways and communications as well as provision of adequate energy.

The Kenya economy is dependent on roads and road transport. Road transport is the most common means of transport in Kenya since it is very cheap compared to all the other means of transport. Following the deterioration in the performance of railway transport, road transport has emerged as the main mode of transport in Kenya for both passengers and freight.

Sound investment in infrastructure is a key driver of economic growth. Countries with economies under transition spend a big percentage of development funds on the road network. Good infrastructure facilitates trade, economic development and improvement in the quality of life, especially in Kenya where roads carry over 80% of passenger transport. Roads are one of the modes of transport of people and goods and are used to interconnect other modes as well as provide access to basic social services.

Unfortunately, most of these roads are in very bad condition, a situation that makes it very difficult to not only carry people and goods to their destination, but also increase the cost of running the business due to the wear and tear of vehicle parts. This has been caused by various factors, especially in urban centres such as Thika Town.

Three Roads built using Probase Technology, a cheap and fast Alternative.

First and foremost, Kenya has no urban transport policy yet. As such, there is no clear decision as to which modes of transport and facilities the urban areas should encourage or provide. This has led to the current confusion onto which roads fall under the county government and which ones belong to the national government. The result is unmaintained poor roads.

Transport facilities under public ownership and management generally have weak and ineffective structures. The legal framework for private sector participation in the roads sub-sector is also inadequate. Lack of capacity and shortage of resources seriously undermines the capability for good corporate governance, sound decision making and efficient management. The provisions in the Kenya Roads Act, 2007 and the Public-Private Partnerships Regulations, 2009 are inadequate. Thus, even when some private citizens wish to chip in to help, the law throws in so much bottlenecks that hinder any road developments and maintenance from such developers.

In nearly all transport modes, there is also a serious lack of funds for development and maintenance. This factor will form the basis of our argument since we can improve on it through technologies from other parts of the world to help build and maintain our roads on a cheap.

There are many issues around road construction that Kenya has to contend with, the biggest being the cost of tarmacking roads in Kenya. Kenya probably has the highest cost of doing roads in sub-Saharan Africa. Why the costs are so high compared to our neighbours? Why would it cost Sh60 million more to do a kilometer of road in Kenya compared to DR Congo? How come Kenyan contractors who win tenders across the borders are able to do roads in neighbouring countries at one-third of the cost?

The Kenya Urban Roads Authority blames the high costs on land grabbing by cartels, illegal allocation of land, conflict of interests between various stakeholders and over-valuation of land parcels.  The cost is also increased by illegal payments made to those who have constructed buildings on road reserves, unnecessary cost of relocating power lines and other utilities and an escalation of fees owed to public agencies.
These costs have over-burdened the taxpayer as the government pays billions of shillings to either acquire plots that are on road reserves or to compensate people who have constructed buildings there.
The much hyped annuity road financing plan by the Jubilee Government last year was temporarily ditched over concerns of inflated costs. In this arrangement, Thika Town was to benefit from 25km of road this fiscal year, a factor that would have gone a long way in easing traffic snarl-ups in the town thereby enhancing trade in return.

Infrastructure has been a major hindrance for most areas which now call for counties and town managements to think of cost effective ways of building and maintaining roads.
Probase standard road technology can be a low-cost alternative from our traditional Kenya methods. The technology, launched in 1998 in Malysia, is currently being used in 13 countries in the world, including Uganda. Meru was the first county in Kenya to use the technology where a kilometre of probase road cost them barely Sh22 million unlike in the traditional Kenya where it would have costed between sh80 and 120 million.

Unlike in normal road construction, where two layers of road are paved, the new technology uses surface dressing where one layer is compressed until no water can penetrate. The products involved in the construction of roads include soil stabiliser and strengthener, soil hardener, soil sealant, asphalt and binder.
The technology is accomplished in three steps.  The first step is soil stabilization. The common methods of stabilizing soil include stabilization by compaction, mechanical stabilization or by the use of stabilizing additives like cement, lime, bitumen and many other stabilizers available in the market.

The second step involves waterproofing and dust control. The stabilized soil surface is sealed with PROBASE PB-65 SOIL SEALANT to provide a waterproof layer to prevent rainwater penetration into the soil and keep the road in dry condition at all times.

The last step is maintenance. It is the patching any pothole or depression by mixing soil with TX-85, followed by sealing a layer of PB-65 SOIL SELANT on the affected area. Only minimal manpower is required comprising of 3 workers + 1 truck for a maintenance team. Maintenance can be done as and when required for a long lasting road.

The practice was used because it is cost effective, the materials are readily available, and fast.  It is in essence cheap, durable and easy to maintain.  The use of probase in Meru was a pilot case, which would be rolled out in other counties. The practice has since been adopted in Kiambu and benchmarked in Taita.
Soil sealed with Proseal can effectively prevent water penetration compared to unsealed roads. This makes the constructed road durable. The non-water soluble layer of protection keeps the road dry. Test results show that the strength of the road is maintained even during heavy downpour. Rainwater and traffic can cause erosion of ± 75 mm per year without sealing. Proseal on the other hand prevents erosion; saving cost on resurfacing while protecting the environment. The protective layer of Proseal virtually turns the soil road into a dust-free environment.

The success was measured in terms of the Cost of construction, Speed of construction and the Durability of constructed roads which is said to have a lifespan of over 10 years.

It is therefore a challenge to both Kiambu County and the national government which is to use slightly less than sh300 million to do Kenyatta Highway, just over a kilometer in length.

The upgrade of 600metre long Kenyatta Highway to a dual carriage way will cost the taxpayer Sh221 million. Similarly, its expansion along the Munene-Kimathi-Pilot stretch (about 700metres) that has price tag of a cool Ksh.60 million. Both parts of the road have taken more than eight months to reach where they are now (about 60% complete).

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