Bahrain invests in modernising and expanding its road network

 

Substantial investment in the road network is under way in Bahrain. The standout project is the upcoming King Hamad Causeway, which will provide an additional link to Saudi Arabia, and is set to be built on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis.

This international link is complemented by a large number of strategic domestic road projects, either planned or under development, that are aimed at easing congestion and improving connectivity between different parts of Bahrain.

In a country with high-density urban areas, the creation of a more modern and robust road network is likely to have far-reaching impacts on Bahrain’s economy, residents and visitors.

INVESTMENT: According to the March 2017 “Bahrain Economic Quarterly” issued by the Bahrain Economic Development Board, road projects currently make up 16% of spending in the kingdom by the Gulf Development Fund, which is investing heavily in infrastructure projects, notably the $1.1bn Bahrain International Airport expansion (see overview).

Meanwhile, according to a March 2017 report by research firm BNC Networks, across the GCC region as a whole there were a total of 1381 active transport projects in February 2017, worth $379.7bn, with almost 75% of these in the road construction sector.

In Bahrain, a report by Ventures Onsite from July 2017, forecast that road, bridge and tunnel contractor awards would increase from an estimated $146m in 2017 to some $226m in 2018, with the total value of active road, bridge and tunnel projects in mid-2017 standing at approximately $3.8bn.

CAR OWNERSHIP: Private transportation continues to dominate in Bahrain, which has a high rate of the car ownership. According to the kingdom’s Information and eGovernment Authority, at the end of 2016 there were 522,780 privately owned cars, among a total population of 1.37m. That same year 32,595 new private vehicles were registered, adding to the traffic on the roads. The number of private cars more than doubled in the decade to 2015, at which point there were 475,406 registered cars, up from 226,918 private vehicles in 2004.

In November 2017 the kingdom’s minister of works, municipalities affairs and urban planning, Essam bin Abdullah Khalaf, told DT News that the annual growth rate of traffic in Bahrain currently stands at some 5-7%. “The ministry is working on developing a network of strategic roads, and a number of big projects are under way,” Khalaf said.

PAVING PROGRESS: The kingdom has invested heavily in its road network as a key part of its long-term development strategy, Economic Vision 2030, drawing up a plan that will improve interconnectedness across the country.

One aspect of this is the paving of dirt roads in urban areas to create an integrated network. The programme has been ongoing for a number of years, and according to reports around 70% of the paving work has now been completed.

In July 2017 the Ministry of Works, Municipalities Affairs and Urban Planning also received approval from the Executive Committee for 11 projects that form part of the wider road network plan, with the overall process due to be completed by 2022.

“The projects are expected to change the roads network tremendously to be able to accommodate the rapid increase in population, and the housing and urban growth in the kingdom,” Khalaf said on a visit to several of the works in May 2017.

In July 2017 Bahrain News Agency reported that the Muharraq Ring Road – a BD5m ($13.3m) project that includes a fourth causeway connecting the island of Muharraq to Manama, which aims to improve access to villages like Hidd, Dair, Samaheej and Galali – was 35% complete.

The bridge is expected to cost $250m, with tenders for the reclamation process currently in the evaluation phase and those for construction to be received in the first half of 2018. The 3-km road expansion will also feature a new lighting system and an improved storm-water-drainage network.

RELIEVING CONGESTION: Among the other major schemes under development is the Alba and Nuwaidrat Interchange Revamp Project, which is being funded by the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development as part of the Gulf Fund Programme.

The area is of growing commercial importance, with significant investment activity taking place and industrial facilities situated nearby. More than 100,000 vehicles per day currently pass through the interchange, and the construction of flyovers is expected to ease the flow of traffic.

Work is also under way on the BD1.96m ($5.2m) expansion of Wali Al Ahad Highway, which links the Riffa area to Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Highway and Hamad Town. The highway, which is used by around 73,000 vehicles daily, serves a range of governmental institutions, including the Bahrain Defence Force Hospital, as well as cultural centres. The number of lanes will be increased to three in each direction to improve the flow of traffic.

Another important project is the expansion of the Sheikh Zayed Highway, with the goal of turning the highway into a major route capable of handling more than 50,000 vehicles a day. The expansion will include the construction of a BD7.5m ($19.9m) flyover envisaged as the third entrance to Hamad Town.

Meanwhile, work on the Busaiteen Exit Extension, which will be completed in two phases, was given the green light in May 2017, with the aim of alleviating traffic congestion along 11 points in Muharraq, with alternative access and exit points along Ghous Highway and the Airport Highway.

The new road will have a capacity of 1200 vehicles an hour, and a target has been set of reducing congestion along Ghous Highway by up to 20%. Both Busaiteen and North Muharraq have seen rapid urban growth in recent years, and the project is targeted at smoothing traffic flow in these areas.

In July 2017 Khalaf also announced the opening of a new entrance to the Isa Town educational district, comprising a two-way road that passes between Sacred Heart School and Sheikh Abdullah School. The district sees considerable daily traffic due to it being the location of 10 schools, the University of Bahrain, Bahrain Polytechnic, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Information Affairs and other educational institutions.

SALMAN INDUSTRIAL CITY: A month later Bahrain’s Industrial Areas Development Directorate, which is part of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, pushed ahead with plans to update key infrastructure in Salman Industrial City.

Previously known as Al Hidd Industrial Area, the city contains Bahrain International Investment Park, Bahrain Investment Wharf and Hidd Industrial Zone. The work there will include road network development and the installation of street lighting, and is expected to be completed by 2020. Bahrain is also set to construct a major bridge linking Manama with Isa Town. This follows directives from Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the country’s prime minister, for the construction of a direct bridge connecting the intersection of Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Highway to Sheikh Isa bin Salman Highway.

KING HAMAD CAUSEWAY: While local road developments are vital to the flow of traffic in and around Bahrain, the establishment of a second causeway linking Bahrain with Saudi Arabia is of key economic importance to the kingdom, given the extent of its reliance on trade with its larger neighbour.

Daily traffic on the existing 25-km King Fahd Causeway averaged 31,000 passengers a day in 2016, with the causeway, which opened in 1986, struggling to cope with the flow of vehicles crossing back and forth between the two countries.

Construction of the new King Hamad Causeway is expected to cost $4bn-5bn, and will likely be funded through a PPP lasting for 25-30 years, with the route running parallel to the existing King Fahd Causeway. Designs feature four lanes of traffic, in addition to a 70-km rail line that will ultimately link Bahrain’s Khalifa Bin Salman Port, as well as a passenger terminal in Salmabad and Bahrain International Airport, to Saudi Arabia’s railway and then to the Gulf Railway network once it is developed.

The first quarter of 2018 was expected to see the appointment of key advisers to the King Hamad Causeway project, with pre-qualification requests scheduled to be issued in the second quarter.

Improved road networks, as well as the new causeway, could have a major impact on Bahrain’s economic development, as well as the perception of the kingdom as an attractive place to live and work. The developments already under way show that the relevant authorities understand this, and are making significant efforts to address remaining issues.

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The Report: Bahrain 2018

Transport chapter from The Report: Bahrain 2018

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