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Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Building the future

Mega projects and new cities have dominated development during the last six years, reports Ahmed Morsy

Ahmed Morsy , Tuesday 9 Jun 2020
Building the future
Archival photo of Tahya Masr “Long Live Egypt” suspension bridge crossing the River Nile near Cairo’s Warraq Island (photo: Reuters)
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Since July 2014, the date President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi took office, the state has been in a hurry to complete an array of mega projects that include roads, bridges, tunnels, new cities and even a new canal.

In the housing sector alone Egypt has completed 1,426 projects during the past six years at an estimated cost of LE175 billion, according to the pro-government ONtv channel.

The Ministry of Housing, in conjunction with the New Urban Communities Authority, is constructing 14 “fourth generation cities”, the New Administrative Capital, New Alamein, New Mansoura, East Port Said, Nasser City in western Assiut and New Ismailia among them.

“Fourth generation cities” are built in an architectural style based on modern technology and in line with Egypt’s 2030 Vision and its sustainable development strategy, according to the government.

“Fourth generation cities are not a luxury, but essential to housing a growing population. We need to double Egypt’s built-up area instead of crowding ever more people in the Nile Valley and Delta,” said Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli.

The total covered by the 14 new cities is 380,000 acres, which is 50 per cent of the area allocated to new urban communities in the previous four decades.

The first phase of the New Administrative Capital was scheduled to be inaugurated this month but President Al-Sisi instructed the government in April to reschedule the inauguration, along with those of the Grand Egyptian Museum and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation, to 2021 following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the latest directive, the government had planned to relocate ministries to the new capital’s governmental district by mid-2020. The district includes the headquarters of the presidency and the cabinet, parliament buildings and ministry offices.

The New Administrative Capital was announced in March 2015 during the Economic Summit held in Sharm El-Sheikh. It is located 60km from Cairo, in the area between the Cairo-Suez and Cairo-Ain Sokhna roads, 50km east of the regional ring road.

While the total area of Cairo is estimated at 95,000 feddans, the Administrative Capital is being built over 170,000 feddans.

The new capital, which is expected to accommodate seven million people, will include residential districts, the government district, a central business district, international airport, and exhibition and convention centres.

The business district is co-built by China State Construction Engineering Corporation and the New Urban Communities Authority, and has attracted investments estimated at $3 billion. It will house 20 skyscrapers, including the 78-floor Iconic Tower which will be the tallest building in Africa when it is finished.

The New Administrative Capital will help relieve congestion in Cairo, one of the world’s most crowded cities, and as construction of the new capital has progressed, so too have plans to eliminate urban slums.

According to the Informal Settlements Development Fund (ISDF) 40 per cent of urban construction in Egypt comprises unplanned areas, home to 22 million people.

“By the end of 2020 we will get rid of all structurally unsafe slums, and by 2030 unplanned areas will have been eliminated entirely,” Ehab Al-Hanafi, ISDF’s general coordinator, told Extra News channel in May. The cost of the first phase, eliminating unsafe slums in two years, is LE40 billion.

Model housing communities built to relocate slum residents include the Al-Asmarat complex in Moqattam, Masaken Othman, the Al-Mahrousa Projects, and Bashayer Al-Kheir.

New cities need to be linked. Al-Sisi launched the National Road Project in 2014, with the goal of constructing and/or upgrading 7,000km of highways. Almost 5,000km are now complete, with the remaining 2,000km expected to be finished by the end of this year.

The work on upgrading roads has already paid off in terms of a reduction in the number of accidents. According to government figures there has been a fall of 41.1 per cent in the number of accidents, from 14,403 in 2014 to 8,480 in 2018.

The new Sharm El-Sheikh road, which was inaugurated last year, shortens the journey time between Cairo’s New Cairo district to Sharm El-Sheikh by four hours. The 342km road was constructed at a cost of LE3.5 billion.

The 30 July Axis, a 95km long dual freeway built at a cost of LE8.5 billion, was inaugurated late last year and connects South Port Said with the Cairo-Ismailia Desert Road, via the International Coastal Road (Port Said-Damietta).

Among the most important bridges to be inaugurated amid this plethora of construction were the Rod Al-Farag Axis and the Tahya Masr suspension bridge crossing the Nile.

Tahya Masr, a 540m long, 67.36m wide suspension bridge, is the world’s widest cable-stayed bridge. It includes pedestrian walkways on either side, partly fitted with skywalks made of reinforced glass.

Along with roads and bridges, Egypt widened the 193km Suez Canal with a 72km parallel waterway. Dubbed the New Suez Canal, it was inaugurated in August 2015, and cost LE64 billion.

The new Suez Canal, which took only a year to be completed, allows for two-way traffic along part of the route, and is expected to increase transit revenues from the canal to more than $13.2 billion by 2023, up from $5.3 billion in 2014.

During the inauguration ceremony, Al-Sisi said that in addition to economic and strategic benefits, completing the new canal in such a short time had given Egypt a much needed confidence boost.

Four new tunnels have been constructed beneath the canal, two in Port Said and two in Ismailia, to alleviate the pressure on the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel. They will facilitate the ambitious development schemes being implemented in Sinai at an estimated cost of LE275 billion.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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