14 - 20 October 1999
Issue No. 451
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
There and back again
The international highway stretching across Egypt's northern coast, from Libya to Sinai, is almost ready for use. Amira Ibrahim travels from Rafah to Salloum
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After a decade of extensive work, the international coastal highway is ready to be opened. The LE2.5 billion construction, completely financed by the government, was carried out by Egyptian workers and inaugurated during the 6 October celebrations.
Running two kilometres south of the coast, the highway cuts across 1,050km of territory, passing through eight of northern Egypt's governorates: Marsa Matrouh, Alexandria, Beheira, Kafr Al-Sheikh, Daqahliya, Damietta, Port Said and North Sinai.
Ahmed Abu Alfa, head of the Authority for the Development of the Central Northern Coast, told Al-Ahram Weekly that construction work was divided into three main sectors. "The eastern sector, 220km long, was completed three years ago at a cost of LE300 million and is already in service. It starts at Rafah, crosses Al-Arish and ends at Port Said. The western sector, 550km from Alexandria to Salloum, has also been completed, at a cost of LE700 million. It includes dams to hold back the heavy rainstorms that characterise this area, and has been in service since 1995," Abu Alfa explained.
East may well be east, and west west, but it will now be far easier for the twain to meet. Engineers, technicians and, perhaps most crucially, the workers actually laying the foundations of this massive project have toiled night and day to complete the last phase, inaugurated during the 6 October celebrations
photos: Hussein Fathi and Salah Ibrahim
According to official figures, 40 per cent of total construction work included the expansion and upgrading of existing roads, mainly in the Alexandria-Salloum section.
The central sector is still partly under construction. It is 280km long, and links Port Said with Alexandria.
"The central sector cost LE1.5 billion to construct," commented Abu Alfa. "About 20 surface and flyover constructions were carried out."
In Alexandria, a 9km ring road has been built as part of the international highway, linking the two main Cairo-Alexandria highways.
In July, President Hosni Mubarak inaugurated a giant flyover at Alexandria's southern gate. Muharram Bek Bridge is the first three-level bridge in the country.
In Rosetta, meanwhile, workers are busy putting the final touches to another flyover that crosses the Nile, connecting Beheira and Kafr Al-Sheikh governorates. The bridge is the first to be constructed north of the Edfina Barrage in the past 50 years.
"Inhabitants and travellers used to cross the Nile by ferry, at a rate of five vehicles per hour. The new bridge, which is 1.5km long, allows 3,000 vehicles to pass every hour," explained Saleh Adham, the Rosetta Bridge project manager. "The construction consists of three parts: the first on the western bank, the second on the eastern bank, in Kafr Al-Sheikh. The third, the middle part, is 425m long with a navigation lock 85m wide and 13m high," he added.
Minister of Construction and New Communities Mohamed Ibrahim Soliman, who recently visited the Rosetta construction, said the central sector will contribute to upgrading national infrastructure in general and development in the Delta in particular.
The governorates' main cities will be connected to the international highway in a bid to strengthen domestic transport and local tourism as well as boosting commercial exchange among governorates, Soliman stated.
Ahmad Tahsin, deputy at the Ministry of Construction and New Communities, explained: "Each governorate will be connected to the highway by two side roads, one leading to the capital and the other to the main markets."
Another important part of the international coastal highway is the Port Said ring road, designed to link the new port at Damietta with the Canal cities, Sinai and Cairo. "The road will also take the heavy traffic between Damietta and Port Said out of the city centres, saving time and sparing the cities' roads," added Tahsin.
According to Ali Emasha, head of the Housing Authority for West Sinai and Port Said, the first phase of the highway freed land where local authorities have established a new industrial zone and a chemical station to recycle liquid waste. Natural gas pipelines are also in the works.
Work on the second phase is continuing around the clock. Fifteen kilometres of this part of the highway extend inside Lake Manzalah. "The fishermen who live between the coast and the lake do not like the fact that the highway cuts their houses off from the lake," Emasha explained. "It took some time to settle these and other disputes with the people of the surrounding villages."
Such opposition, however, may only indicate resistance to come. Official maps of the governorate indicate that the area currently inhabited by the fishing communities is to be transformed into a touristic area featuring several hotels and resorts.
Other obstacles, of a more technical nature, also persist. Despite the efforts exerted by the engineers, technicians and workers to extend the road inside the lake, the mud of the bottom stubbornly refuses to give in.
"The problem is that the bottom keeps sinking. We tested the road with a load of 80 tonnes, but we have to be completely sure it will not sink any further," Emasha noted.
Along the highway, the final touches are still being applied. Traffic signs are being placed on both sides, while protective barriers and phosphoric ground-signs have been put up on the bridges and other constructions.
Travelling from east to west will take 40 per cent less time thanks to the new highway. A trip from Alexandria to Port Said is down from 357km through the old road to 280km.
Another major link is being built on the Suez Canal at Qantara, 55km north of Ismailia, to carry passengers and vehicles from west of the Canal to Sinai.
"The new bridge will facilitate the transport of goods and passengers between the eastern and western countries of the Middle East and thus contribute to economic and cultural exchange," according to Abdel-Aziz Salama, governor of Ismailia. The project should be completed by 2001. Industrial zones and fisheries are already being planned and built, in a bid to benefit from the increased commercial activity the bridge will encourage.
These major arteries, officials hope, will also serve to relieve population congestion in the Delta area through resettlement and the creation of new communities.