U.S-based Bechtel Corp. has won a contract for the construction of Kenya's first expressway, which is designed to ease transportation of goods between the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa and the landlocked countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Construction of the four-lane, 473-kilometer expressway with 19 interchanges will commence in 2018. The first phase, between Mombasa Road and Kyumvi, or the so-called Machakos Turnoff, is likely to be commissioned in October 2019, according to an earlier brief by the Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha), a state-owned road agency that develops, manages, rehabilitates and maintains Kenya's international and national trunk roads.

Estimated at $2.23 billion, the high-speed expressway will reduce the journey time between Mombasa and Kenya's capital, Nairobi, to four from more than 10 hours. On Aug. 5, Bechtel said, "This project will complement the new Standard Gauge Railway to transform the Nairobi-Mombasa corridor into a vibrant and continuous economic zone." Bechtel, which opened a regional Africa office in Nairobi in June to serve the rest of the continent, said financing is expected from export credit agencies, such as the U.S. Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and UK Export Finance.

The expressway will be tolled as part of Kenya's wider scheme to concession several national roads, improving the quality of freight transport and reducing the government's maintenance costs. "With an operation-and-maintenance concession, we will require the private partners to undertake continuous maintenance of the road throughout the … contract life," said Peter Mundinia, director general of Kenha, in June.

More than 27.36-million tonnes of cargo passing through the port of Mombasa are transported via the Mombasa-Nairobi highway, which is a key section of the more than 2,000-km Northern Corridor that runs from Mombasa to Kisangani in the eastern DRC through Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. The project will create an estimated 4,000 jobs. Further, the company will provide "training and capacity-building as part of the project," said a Bechtel release.

"We will bring global megaproject capability and local commitment to deliver the Nairobi-Mombasa expressway to our high standards of quality, safety and sustainability," said Craig Albert, president of Bechtel's global infrastructure business.

This is the second contract Kenha has awarded on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway. China City Construction Group Ltd.'s Third Engineering Bureau was picked as the preferred bidder to add two extra lanes, running 41 km between Mombasa and Mariakani, to the highway. When completed by the end of 2019, the project will decongest this highway stretch, which has slowed vehicle speeds to between 10 km per hr and 30 km per hr, taking an estimated three to six hours to cover only 16 km. Four-laning is expected to reduce the traffic congestion and increase vehicle speeds to between 50 km per hr and 80 km per hr over the same stretch.