Sahel Road is unfinished, but it is supposed to be completed by 30 July or mid-August. That was the core of the message President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi conveyed to calm the uproar on social networks over the new motorway.
“The road will be completed when all the technical work is done, the necessary traffic signs are added, and police are dispatched [to the road] to regulate it as required,” Al-Sisi said in a video while inspecting road networks in Greater Cairo on Friday.
Al-Sisi’s remarks came days after Minister of Transportation Kamel Al-Wazir announced that a committee from the ministry’s road experts were sent to examine and “immediately” tackle any problems on the road, upon the president’s directives.
Attention to the Sahel Road, the coastal road connecting Alexandria to Marsa Matrouh, came in response to widespread controversy and several videos circulating on social media claiming the road is in chaos when it comes to safety.
“Traffic has been a mess on the road and trucks are driving in opposite directions,” Abu Karma, a social media user, wrote on his Facebook account, blaming the construction of a two-way service lane beside the highway.
Social media users have also complained that the roundabouts confuse drivers and send them on multiple routes that put them in the way of other vehicles especially when taking U-turns, making driving at night exceptionally dangerous.
Millions of Egyptians use the road annually, especially those heading to the North Coast for their summer vacations as well as trucks transporting goods. The newly developed 55 km segment of the road is a portion of the mammoth 780 kilometre-long International Coastal Road which connects six governorates along the Mediterranean coast.
“Is it logical to compare a two-or-three-lane road with a six-or-seven lane road and find that [the latter] is the one that has a problem? Of course not,” the president said, urging people to wait until work is completed.
Over the course of one year, the road has been expanded to six lanes in each direction instead of four. In addition, nine multi-lane roundabouts were constructed and a two-way four-lane service road was added in each direction, with only street lines separating the west-bound lanes from those east-bound.
Also, after expansion, the service roads leading to Alexandria occupied almost all the space in front of restaurants and cafés. Parked vehicles blocked a lane of the road and forced vehicles to awkwardly cut into other lanes, users complained.
On the other service road leading to Matrouh, expansion work has shifted entrances of most of the North Coast’s gated communities to the adjacent road, causing several segments of the road to be congested as multiple vehicles queue to enter just one road, users added.
Users expressed fears of congestion on the road especially during peak times as the volume of traffic on the relatively narrow service lanes is far more than that on the super highways.
Service roads are additionally dangerous as cars travelling in opposite directions flash their headlights onto incoming vehicles. Moreover, like many roads nationwide, expanding the road also made it harder and more dangerous for pedestrians trying to cross to buy groceries or other commodities.
TV anchor Lamis Al-Hadidi urged Minister Al-Wazir on Twitter to try to save lives, even if it meant closing the huge roundabouts temporarily, and also save “the billions of pounds spent and all the endangered investments”.
During his inspection tour last week, Al-Sisi stressed that he personally “follows up on the opinions and notes of citizens on the construction work along the Sahel Road.” He, however, warned against “deliberate scepticism” practised by some parties that, he added, always seek to distort mega development efforts.
Al-Sisi has prioritised the renewal of Egypt’s 23,500 km road network as part of the National Road Project that he launched in 2014. Over the past eight years, Egypt has constructed 5,500 km of roads as part of a goal to construct 7,000 km of highways, the Ministry of Transportation announced last week.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 July, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.