Every October, clusters of purple flowers burst forth, brightening up large swathes of Nairobi’s tree line as the city’s jacaranda trees come into bloom.
However, the annual natural spectacle christened #JacarandaPropaganda in the interwebs might not happen from this year onwards — at least not in one part of the city.
The decades-old trees line up on either side of Kenyatta Avenue, on the stretch from the GPO past Serena Hotel and All Saints Cathedral. But something is happening there that will completely change this beauty forever.
Construction of two overpasses and a series of road interchanges to link Ngong Road to the city centre has started in earnest.
The trees along this stretch will make way for concrete pillars.
The Kenya Urban Roads Authority (Kura) in November said the project, estimated to cost Sh2.9 billion, is expected to be completed in 2023 and will entail the construction of a viaduct at Valley Road/Kenyatta Avenue from Integrity Centre to the Serena Hotel.
The famous jacaranda trees on Kenyatta Avenue, down towards the Serena, have already been earmarked for removal and the entire stretch, from the Kenyatta Avenue/Uhuru Highway roundabout to Ngong Road has been fenced off.
Arches or spans
A viaduct is a type of long bridge or series of bridges, usually supported by a series of arches or spans between tall towers.
According to the plan, there will be an interchange at Ngong/Nyerere roads and an overpass at Upper Hill road/Haile Selassie avenue and associated road networks from the Milimani Law Courts to Lower Hill Road.
State House Road will also be refurbished, while Nyerere Road will be turned into a dual carriageway.
But it is the cutting down of the trees along the roads, which has already begun at the Kenya National Library, that has sparked widespread condemnation.
Even though several other tree species are marked for felling, the targeting of the iconic jacaranda trees along Kenyatta Avenue has elicited the loudest condemnation.
The majestic jacaranda is an iconic tree in African cities and towns, from Johannesburg to Nairobi. And thousands of tourists flock the cities to see the jacarandas in bloom.
Daima Coalition Green Spaces, an environmental NGO, claims more than 200 trees, belonging to at least 13 different species, have been earmarked for cutting.
Some of the trees are more than 30 years old.
“We support development that is socially just and climate-smart. That means, the infrastructure development of today should have the least impact on carbon emissions and it must benefit the majority of the citizens. And development also cannot be myopically focused on short term solutions; it must take into account the needs of future generations. Inter- and intra-generational equity is paramount,” said Ms Nyaguthii Chege, the executive director of the Green Belt Movement.
But speaking to Nation.Africa, the Kura chief corporate communications officer, Mr John Cheboi, said the trees will be replaced.
“They have to go and will be replaced by the next set of trees.” But it is not just the trees that will be gone in a few months.
The new paved non-motorised transport lanes by the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) will also be removed, barely five months after they were installed.
The NMS has constructed new non-motorised corridors on several streets and avenues in the capital city, with the notable ones being those on Kenyatta Avenue, Wabera and Muindi Mbingu streets.
In a past interview, the Kura country resident engineer, Mr Benjamin Asin, explained that the viaduct project will be fully funded by the Kenyan taxpayer and will see two elevated carriageways erected; one from Integrity Centre to Serena hotel and another one on Milimani Close.
“At the moment, we are doing a preparatory assessment of relocation of works planning and geotechnical investigations,” said Mr Asin.
The process of identifying and transferring service providers is now ongoing after the project tender was awarded to China Roads and Bridges Corporation-Kenya with Kura as the overseer.
To minimise traffic disruption, Mr Asin said work will be done at night, with slip roads constructed first, where traffic will be directed before embarking on the elevated carriageways.
The two elevated carriageways have been designed in such a manner that they will approach the Mombasa-Nairobi expressway at lower levels and into the city centre through Haile Selassie and Kenyatta avenues.
“There will be no connection because one is for traffic that is going express so we do not want to mix. As traffic approaches the expressway, it will go down and into the city,” he said.
There will be closed lanes, cycle tracks and side lanes, including two bus rapid transport corridors on Haile Selassie and Kenyatta avenues.
During construction, no building will be demolished as Kura will use space reserved for road expansion, except for strips of land owned by the All Saints Cathedral and the Milimani Commercial Court and along Nyerere Road.
The improvement works will consist of the removal of the existing two-lane bituminous road and widening of the same to a two-lane two-way carriageway with a median separator, cycle tracks, footpaths, drainage and street lighting.
Mr Asin added that there will be service roads, slip roads and acceleration and deceleration lanes at specific stretches and median breaks.
Concrete works include rehabilitation of existing cross drainage works and construction of new drainage.