Before the 100-kilometre Mati road from Ena in Embu County to Meru was tarmacked, residents would spend up to six hours on a distance of less than 20 kilometres especially during the rainy season.
After more than six years since the project was launched in 2013, the road was finally completed early this year, opening up the region for business.
Besides appreciation of property along the road — which connects Meru, Tharaka-Nithi and Embu counties — there are new developments including petrol stations in the Tharaka area and hotels in Meru.
“For a long time there were no major economic activities in Tharaka. Lack of good roads was a problem but we are seeing an increasing number of new businesses along the route, among them hotels,” said Daniel Kirimi, a resident of Kaguma, some 15 kilometres from Meru town.
Mitunguu, Chaaria, Gaitu and Chiakariga shopping centres along the route are beneficiaries of the Sh4.6 billion road.
For Simon Kaburu Anjuri, a transporter, covering the 20-kilometre stretch between Chaaria and Meru town during the rainy season was a nightmare. They would take more than five hours pushing vehicles, or even abandon their journeys altogether.
“It was terrible. We would incur huge expenses repairing our vehicles which would not make business sense,” he said in a phone interview.
“Travel time between Chaaria and Meru town is now less than 15 minutes. We conveniently transport farm produce to the market and farmers and traders are reaping the benefits of a tarmacked road,” said Mr Kaburu.
Property has also appreciated, with the price of a 50×100 plot at Chaaria shooting from Sh300,000 three years ago to the current Sh1 million, he said, adding that more people working in Meru town were now renting houses at Chaaria which is now only 15 minutes away.
Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) Meru chapter chairman Kenneth Mwenda said the project has significantly changed the fortunes of the region.
“The Mati road is a game changer for the region. Many investors are rushing to the area to buy land for various investments. The once-quiet markets along the road have increased economic activities,” said Mr Mwenda.
Truckers transporting goods from Nairobi to Meru and Isiolo also prefer to use the new road instead of the hilly Nkubu-Thuchi road.
“Unlike the Meru-Nairobi road, the Mati route is not hilly. Most commercial transport vehicles prefer it because it also shortens the time of travel from Nairobi by at least one hour,” said Mr Daniel Kirai, a farmer from Gaitu, 15 kilometres from Meru town.
However, despite the benefits accruing from completion of the road, residents have raised concern over increased accidents on some sections of the road, and have asked the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) to fasttrack erection of speed bumps to avert further carnage.
“We appreciate that the road has solved our transport problems but the authorities should also put in place measures to ensure that residents enjoy the benefits without suffering,” Mr Kaburu said.
The ongoing tarmacking of the 20-kilometre Tunyai-Gakurungu-Nthaara Road in Tharaka constituency by Tharaka-Nithi County Government is also expected to boost the economy of the region rich in iron ore deposits.
Investors from China and America have been visiting the region with an interest in mining but have been discouraged by the deplorable state of the roads.
The road connects Tharaka constituency to the newly constructed Mati Road which links Embu, Tharaka-Nithi and Meru counties on the lower side.
Speaking to journalists during an inspection tour of the ongoing work, county roads executive Giti Kijiru said the road is the longest under construction by the devolved government in the entire county.
He said they are spending between Sh33 million to Sh35 million per kilometre and the entire road is estimated to cost at least Sh700 million.