Accomplishing mission impossible on roads

Ahmed Morsy , Friday 18 Mar 2022

Ambitious plans to improve the national road network are paying off.

Egypt has restructured and upgraded 7000 km of highways since 2014.
Egypt has restructured and upgraded 7000 km of highways since 2014.

In 2010, a Japanese expert working on plans for Cairo told Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli, housing minister at the time, that the growth rate of the city’s population and road network indicated that cars would soon not be able to go at more than 10 km an hour because of congestion. He would not want to live in Cairo in 10 years’ time, he said.

“The solutions will cost hundreds of billions, and in the light of the capabilities of Egypt [at the time] I am not sure the country will be able to do them,” the Japanese expert told Madbouli, proposing a series of “dream projects” to be done over 20 years.

However, he said the projects were an “impossible mission”.≠≠

Madbouli said recently that the proposed projects included the expansion of the road network, the development of mass transportation, and the introduction of the monorail and electric trains.

“In a timeframe of just seven years, we have been able to establish those ‘dream projects’ that the Japanese expert said would need 20 years,” Madbouli said.

Last week, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi inspected construction work on roads and axes connecting east and west Cairo. He inspected work on the Omar Al-Mokhtar axis in the Mostorod area and the extension of the Adli Mansour axis, and toured phase two of the upgrading of the Joseph Tito axis, which extends from Al-Herafyin bridge to the Ring Road, with five lanes in each direction.

He also inspected developments on the Shinzō Abe axis, which links the Al-Shahid axis to the New Administrative Capital through the Suez Road and the Ring Road and extends for 15 km, with five lanes in each direction. The axis includes 10 flyovers.

The work comes within the framework of the National Road Project launched by Al-Sisi in 2014 with the goal of developing and extending Egypt’s 23,500 km road network. Egypt has constructed and/or upgraded 7,000 km of highways as part of the project.

When it was launched, Egypt had ranked 118th in terms of the quality of its road infrastructure in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. By 2019, it had climbed to 28th place.

During the inauguration of several national projects last week, Al-Sisi stressed that the state has been implementing the road projects to resolve traffic congestion, facilitate people’s daily movements, and reduce wasted time and fuel consumption. They also serve the economy and commercial movements, the president added.

Ali Al-Biali, a professor of urban planning at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, said “there can be no real development without an efficient road network.”

“One of the major aims behind the National Road Project is to relieve pressure on the Delta by constructing new desert roads that allow goods to be transported between the north and the south of the country by-passing Cairo. The network links the eastern and western regions of Egypt through crosswise axes, which will allow development in the desert.”

Al-Sisi has repeatedly drawn attention to road development as a form of economic empowerment that will link the governorates.

“The National Road Project will not only improve internal trade but also increase foreign trade and movement since it will link the domestic road network with international ones. Economic growth will be boosted,” Al-Biali said.

In response to questions about why the state is focusing on constructing roads, Al-Sisi said that “we are not. The state is doing the same thing in other fields like healthcare, education, agriculture and industry, but because roads are connected to people’s lives, they are more noticeable.”

Al-Sisi also referred to the new cities the country has been building since he took office in 2014. “People criticised us when we started constructing the new cities and said that we were spending too much money with no real benefit,” Al-Sisi said, adding that if population growth rates had been taken into account 40 years ago, we would not need such new cities now.

Until mid-2020, in the housing sector alone Egypt had completed 1,426 projects over the previous six years at an estimated cost of LE175 billion.

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

According to Hassan Al-Mahdi, a professor of transportation at Ain Shams University in Cairo, the state is currently building 32 new cities nationwide and also carrying out desert reclamation. “This would not have happened without the newly built road network,” Al-Mahdi said.

Regarding the development of roads in eastern Cairo, he said that the area is the capital’s gate to new urban communities like the New Administrative Capital, AShorouk, and Badr City, and hence it was necessary to develop and expand the roads to link these new communities.

“The priority for someone moving to the new communities will be the length of the commute. Thus, wider roads and newly-constructed ones were a must, in addition to having new mass transportation like the monorail and the Light Rail train,” he added.

The New Administrative Capital will be connected to Greater Cairo by Egypt’s first monorail and its first Light Rail Transit (LRT) system. Until they go into operation, workers relocated to the New Administrative Capital will rely on a network of shuttle buses.

The monorail will consist of two lines. The first 56.5 km line will be served by 22 stations and connect the New Administrative Capital with the east of Cairo and Nasr City. The second, covering 42 km and served by 12 stations, will begin from 6 October City. They are being constructed at a cost of 2.7 billion euros. The two lines will connect with Cairo’s underground network.

When complete, a commuter from 6 October City will be able to take the monorail to Mohandessin, change to the third metro line and travel to Nasr City’s Cairo Stadium, and then take the second monorail east to the New Administrative Capital.

The first phase of the Nasr City monorail is scheduled to be operational in June 2022. The LRT system is scheduled to operate later in 2022 and will connect with the third line of the Cairo underground network at Salam City’s Adli Mansour Station.

It will link Cairo, Obour, Shorouk, Mostaqbal, Badr, and 10 Ramadan City with the New Administrative Capital and have a length of 90 km and 16 stations and cost LE35 billion.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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