‘Not fully completed’: Complex Sahel Road sparks controversy among vacationers in Egypt

Amr Kandil , Saturday 2 Jul 2022

The newly developed Sahel Road and its recently constructed multi-lane roundabouts and service roads have been the subject of much attention on social media lately for its intricacy, as millions of Egyptians prepare to head to the North Coast for their summer vacations.

A roundabout at Alexandria-Matrouh (Sahel) Road. Still image/Ministry of Interior


“The road has not been fully completed,” President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said on Friday, adding that this includes “technical works that provide necessary traffic services and instructions to regulate the movement of vehicles.”

He also stressed that he personally “follows up on the opinions and notes of citizens on the construction work along the Sahel Road,” emphasising the importance of avoiding the “deliberate scepticism” practiced by some parties that always seek to distort huge development efforts.

Development of the Sahel Road is expected to conclude by 30 July or mid-August at the latest, the president added.

The president’s remarks on the Sahel Road — the coastal road connecting Alexandria to Marsa Matrouh — came in response to widespread controversy on the complexity of the road and a spike in fears pertaining to potential road accidents on a route already infamous for several instances of loss of life.

Several videos have surfaced online this month showing vehicles driving in the opposite direction on the new roundabouts that were constructed on the newly developed 55-km-segment of the 780-km-long international coastal road — more specifically, from the 101st km to the 156th km.

El-Sisi’s remarks also came days after Minister of Transportation Kamel El-Wazir’s announcement of dispatching a committee upon the president’s directives to immediately deal with any problems pertaining to the road as they arise.

Thousands of Egyptians, including vacationers, rely every day on the International Coastal Road — which connects six governorates along the Mediterranean coast — in general and the Sahel Road in particular — which links dozens of the North Coast’s gated communities.

Renovations on the Alexandria-Matrouh Road began around the end of summer 2021, with the plan being to expand it to six lanes in each direction instead of four and establishing nine roundabouts.

This is in addition to a two-way four-lane service road in each direction, with no barriers separating the west-bound lanes from the east-bound ones.

‘Poor’ design, technical hurdles

People on social media have complained about the “poor” design of the newly developed road and numerous technical issues facing drivers that can increase the probability of road crashes.

“There should not be a two-way service road beside a highway,” Abu Karma — a social media user who is an alleged architect — says. “This is why traffic has been a mess on the road and why trucks have been driving in the wrong direction,” he added.

Users have also complained that the roundabouts confuse drivers and send them on multiple routes that put them in the way of other vehicles.

“You will find vehicles at your right trying to take the road on the left and vice versa, and you will find all vehicles intersecting because taking the wrong exit is painful,” a user said.

Taking a U-turn on the roundabouts creates “huge confusion” for drivers because of their eight entrances and exits, said several social media users, citing remarks by an urban planning professor.

Vehicles were seen lost on the roundabout or driving in the wrong direction in the entrances and exits, the professor said.

After the road was expanded, the service road leading to Alexandria has taken almost all the space in front of the restaurants and cafes, and therefore, parked vehicles block a lane of the road and force vehicles to awkwardly cut into other lanes, users say.

On the service road leading to Matrouh, the entrances of most of the North Coast’s gated communities have become adjacent to the road, causing several segments of the road to be congested if multiple vehicles are queuing to enter one, they added.

This has also created a commotion for properties situated around the gates of their communities, with many property owners complaining of the noise arising from these congested areas, the professor said.

Furthermore, commercial services on the road now have no space in front of them, causing more traffic mess that will worsen when the vacation season goes into full swing in July and August, the professor added.

People have also argued that the volume of traffic on the relatively narrow service roads is far more than that on the wide highways, which will likely lead to congestion during peak times.

“The only issue in the road before expansion was congestion during the holiday season due vehicles queuing in front of the gated communities. Now the problem has been exacerbated due to the expansion of the road and the absence of deceleration lanes in front of these communities,” the professor said.

‘Dangerous’ roundabouts, service roads

Between sarcasm and serious warnings, complaints on social media have also centred around the “unclear road instructions” and its tricky design.

People also complained about the numerous intersections on the roundabouts when taking U-turns, with driving being extra dangerous at night-time.

Users have especially warned that the summer vacation season will see deadly accidents if the road’s design is not swiftly adjusted.

People have gone as far as sharing joke designs, including one that featured Netflix sensation Squid Game’s creepy doll in the middle of the road and dubbing it a “death trap.”

Vehicles attempting to enter a community from the left side of the service road will have to significantly reduce their speed or grind to a full-stop to redirect into a queue. This can lead to horrible accidents during the peak months, the professor warned.

The alternative is that vehicle drivers can travel some distance in the wrong direction to enter their communities, which is even more dangerous, he added.

Additionally, a user complained that travelling on the service road at night is dangerous because the headlights of vehicles coming from the opposite direction blind them. “This will definitely cause endless accidents, especially when vehicles in one direction try to overtake a driver in front of them,” one user said.

Moreover, like many roads nationwide, expanding the road also made it harder and more dangerous for pedestrians trying to cross the road to buy groceries or other commodities.

TV host Lamis El-Hadidi addressed El-Wazir on Twitter, urging him to try to save lives, even if by temporarily closing the major roundabouts.

“I do not know if you can fix the Play Station bridges on the Sahel Road and save the billions of pounds spent or all the endangered investments,” El-Hadidi added in her post.

Social media users have also shared photos and videos of vehicle accidents, claiming that they happened on the new road, including one where a truck was seen rolling over on its side. However, the accidents have not been officially confirmed.

Famous actor Hesham Maged has described the new road as “hard, complicated, terrible, and very dangerous”.

Renovating Egyptian roads

The Egyptian political leadership has set the renewal of Egypt’s road network as a priority, building hundreds of new bridges, tunnels, and axes nationwide over the past eight years.

The work comes within the framework of the National Road Project launched by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in 2014 with the goal of developing and extending Egypt’s 23,500-km road network.

In 2019, Egypt was ranked 28th in terms of the quality of road infrastructure in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Report, up from the 118th place it occupied in 2014, when the project was first launched.

Egypt has constructed around 5,500 km of roads over the past eight years as part of a goal to construct 7,000 km of highways, the Ministry of Transportation announced on Wednesday.

In a statement on the occasion of the ninth anniversary of the 30 June Revolution, the ministry said 1,500 km of roads and bridges are being constructed since 2013, along with 1,000 km of main roads that have been developed.

Also, 900 bridges and tunnels were established, and 143 others are being constructed, according to the statement.

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