A frustrated Cornel Mungai sits in his car near Nairobi’s Nyayo Stadium roundabout updating himself on the latest news on his smartphone.
He left home three hours ago, it is nearly half past 8, and he is already late for work. But he still has three more roundabouts to navigate before reaching his office on Kenyatta Avenue.
Each roundabout will add an extra 20 minutes to his journey, and it is going to take him another hour to make it to work, despite the fact that he left his Rimpa home in Ongata Rongai at 5.30 a.m.
“It has taken me an hour to move from Rongai to Galleria and another one-and-a-half hours to reach Nyayo Stadium as the traffic is painfully slow,” he said.
“When I moved to Rongai three years ago, the same distance would have taken me just over 45 minutes to cover, but today it is terrible,” he says.
Mungai is not alone in this predicament. The Sunday Nation — on a drive to Rongai in the opposite lane that same Wednesday morning — witnessed a traffic snarl-up that has become a painful feature to commuters.
Vehicles snake across the entire 20 kilometres from the city through Lang’ata Road up to Bomas of Kenya, then into Magadi Road and on to Rongai town, leaving motorists frustrated for hours.
The worst section is from Bomas of Kenya to Rongai, which was at a near standstill all the way to town, causing a ripple effect on people leaving their homes and trying to join the main road.
So bad is the traffic that motorists — most of whom moved into the satellite town just a few years ago to escape Nairobi’s hectic traffic — have had to plan their lives around the jams.
They wake up early and return home at odd hours to escape the gridlock. And even then, it doesn’t always work.
“There’s nothing like rush-hour if you live in Rongai,” said Geoffrey Akwama, who was stuck in traffic at Galleria shopping mall.
“Rongai does not have a particular time for traffic congestion, either to or from Nairobi. It is congested both ways at any time, and it starts as early as 5 a.m. When leaving your house or coming from town, be prepared to spend between 40 minutes and six hours on the road,” he said.
“I have been stuck in traffic at 6a.m, 9a.m, 11a.m, 2p.m. and even at midnight. It’s something you get used to after realising you face the same plight every day,” he said.
Ongata Rongai, a former quarry township in the 1990s, is jokingly known as “the diaspora” because of the time it takes to travel there.
Attracted by cheaper land in Rongai and the close proximity to the capital, real estate developers swarmed in, putting up buildings to accommodate tenants who were unable to find housing in the city.
Those who could afford to buy their own houses also scrambled for a piece of the new real estate pie.
Today, because of the traffic, the town is rapidly emptying as tenants relocate. Home owners have been stuck with property they cannot resell because of the drop in real estate prices.
Those who still live there have become the butt of jokes and punchlines by morning radio show hosts.
“The rate of development is not as high as it was in the early 2000s as people are moving away in droves,” said Samuel Maina, vice-chairman of the Greater Ongata Rongai Residents Welfare Association (GORRWA).
“Because of this, developers who are stuck with vacant houses have been forced to under-charge. If you look around, there are many vacant houses,” he said.
In 2012, in an attempt to ease traffic flow in the area, the government started expanding Lang’ata Road into a dual carriageway from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) headquarters to the Bomas junction.
Work on the 3.6 km stretch carried out by the Kenya Urban Roads Authority at a cost of Sh2.6 billion was completed last year.
It was supposed to ease traffic flow.
But Magadi Road, which connects the Bomas interchange with Rongai, is a single carriageway, and because of the town’s high population, as it stands the road cannot deal with the high volume of traffic.
Considered a trans-county road, Magadi Road is managed by the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) which says it does not have any plans to expand it any time soon, erasing any hope Rongai residents may have had of a quick solution to their predicament.
“I am not aware of any plan to expand Magadi Road,” said the authority’s spokesman, Mr Charles Njogu.