Reeling from rising road construction costs, Kenya has adopted controversial technology that promises to reduce the cost of road construction by more than 60%.
Dubbed Low Volume Sealed Roads (LVSR) technology, this method of road construction uses bitumen-based joints to economically pave roads with low vehicle traffic.
The Kenya Rural Roads Authority is upgrading roads under the R2000 program, which involves burning roads using low-volume sealed road technology with cobblestones.
High speed roads
Normally, conventional road construction methods focus on creating high speed roads, which requires horizontal and vertical realignment of the road surface, resulting in high costs.
In some cases, additional land is acquired for the road, resulting in the relocation of utilities and the resettlement of people.
However, LVSR technology focuses on modernizing roads without making changes to the existing route. This reduces the cost of road construction due to reduced cost of earthworks, no land acquisition costs and less relocation of utilities.
According to the Economic Survey 2021, there are 4,400 kilometers of low-volume sealed roads in Kenya – with major work underway to bring that figure to 7,000 kilometers by 2022.
The 4,400 kilometers of roads were completed at a cost of 316 billion shillings.
KeRRA, claims that LVSR technology enables the upgrade of low traffic roads to the paved standard to increase the life of the pavement to at least 15 years, thus reducing the life cycle cost of the roads.
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However, while LVSR technology has been adopted in South Africa, Botswana and other African countries, it remains a controversial topic with its fair share of supporters and critics.
Proponents argue that this is the best approach to building and maintaining rural roads while detractors believe the technology can only be used for roads with very low traffic.
40 vehicles per day
Indeed, previous studies by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), an independent UK-based transport consultancy, have suggested that the optimal level of traffic for upgrading a road with LVSR technology is around 40 vehicles. per day.
This is far below the previously recommended threshold values for sub-Saharan Africa – over 200 vehicles per day, which still lingers in the minds of many practitioners.
At higher traffic levels, seals deteriorate much faster, requiring shorter periodic resealing (every 3-5 years) depending on traffic load, which can be costly for poor economies.
Kenya is nevertheless betting on low-volume sealed road technology to modernize around 10,000 kilometers of rural roads in order to slightly improve the country’s road network.