Rapid population growth and an associated surge of new vehicles and traffic have made road upgrades and new highway construction a high priority for the Qatari government, particularly in light of the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup, which will see an estimated 1m visitors flock to the country.
Although new rail developments will have a dramatic impact on traffic volumes and congestion, highway upgrades remain an important component of ongoing economic development and diversification, and represent the best mid-term solution to traffic bottlenecks that have hampered delivery of the construction materials required for the state’s $200bn infrastructure and development programme.
Qatar’s road network stood at 7407 km at the end of 2014, made up of 905 km of primary roads, 759 km of secondary roads, 1441 km of third-class roads and 4302 km of local roads. Population growth and a surge of new vehicles have strained the network, creating congestion and bottlenecks which have aggravated commuters and hindered economic development. The state’s rapid population growth continued in 2016, recording a 9% increase year-on-year to hit 2.56m in April 2016, according to Qatar National Bank. This has resulted in a surge of new vehicles on roads that are increasingly unable to handle such heavy volumes. Machinery and transport equipment imports rose by 27% between 2010 and 2014, from QR41.08bn ($11.3bn) to QR51.98bn ($14.3bn), while the value of road vehicle imports reached QR14.08bn ($3.9bn) in 2014, an 11% increase over QR12.66bn ($3.5bn) in 2013. The Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics reports that there were 110,321 new vehicle and motorcycle registrations recorded in Qatar in 2014, compared to 97,081 in 2013 and 64,307 in 2010.
Traffic congestion has become a major issue as a result, as trucks carrying much-needed supplies and materials out of the centrally located Doha Port vie with rising numbers of commuters, resulting in daily traffic jams throughout the densely populated residential and business areas of West Bay and the Corniche. While a number of ongoing infrastructure projects – including the new Hamad Port and Doha Metro – are expected to relieve road congestion and improve Qatar’s domestic and international transport networks, many of these are not scheduled to be fully operational until late in the decade, making road upgrades a critical priority for the government.
Road projects are slated to see significant public investment in the coming years, with Jassim bin Saif Ahmed Al Sulaiti, the minister of transport and communications, telling media in September 2015 that Qatar plans to add 8500 km of highways, 200 new bridges and 30 new tunnels over the next five years, adding that the state had allocated 95% of its infrastructure budget to road projects. A rising emphasis on roadworks has been reflected in recent contract awards from the Public Works Authority (Ashghal), which is responsible for roads development through the Expressway Programme and the Local Roads and Drainage Programme (LRDP).
According to a press release issued in November 2014, the value of Ashghal’s contract awards rose by nearly 200% between 2012/13 and 2013/14 to hit QR38.4bn ($10.5bn), of which 88% was allocated to road works. However, spending declined more recently – Ashghal reports QR12.81bn ($3.5bn) worth of contracts during the 2014/15 fiscal year, the vast majority of which was funnelled into road works. In December 2014 the authority awarded 12 new design and construction contracts worth just over QR5.5bn ($1.5bn), of which seven were awarded to LRDP projects and one to an Expressway Project. This brought the total volume of contracts awarded in 2014 to QR26bn ($7.1bn). Roads received another boost in May 2015, when Ashghal awarded QR6.06bn ($1.7bn) of contracts to various roads and sewerage projects. Out of 11 contracts, eight were awarded to local roads projects, including a QR287m ($78.8m) third package of a project to improve roads and infrastructure in Al Wakrah West, a QR113m ($31m) contract entailing construction of roads and infrastructure within a government residential division in Al Wukair, and a QR674m ($184.9m) contract for roads and infrastructure in a government residential division north of Al Wukair. Other awards included package three of the West of Al Mesghaf project, valued at QR518m ($142.1m), and a roads and infrastructure contract for the Al Sailiya Road project, worth QR573m ($157.2m).
The Expressway Programme is expected to significantly improve highway connectivity and reduce traffic in Doha via construction of new north-south and east-west links. The programme comprises over 30 programmes divided into 46 contracts, and is expected to deliver 1000 km of new roads, as well as 360 bridges and 240 interchanges. In December 2015 Ashghal reported that there are 10 projects currently under construction under the Expressway Programme, divided into 20 contracts worth a total of QR40bn ($11bn).
Major projects under the programme include the QR3.9bn ($1.1bn) East-West Corridor, which will create strategic links between southern Doha, a new north-south orbital highway and HIA; the QR3.5bn ($960.4m) Lusail Expressway providing better connectivity to the new Lusail City development; and the East and Central Dukhan Highway projects, worth a cumulative QR5.1bn ($1.4bn), which will significantly improve east-west connectivity via the Bani Hajer Interchange and along Al Gharrafa Road from Al Rayyan Road to Thani Bin Jasim Street.
Al Rayyan Road
One of three road projects singled out in the 2016 budget, the Al Rayyan Road scheme will link New Rayyan, Bani Hajer and Doha’s city centre, as well as Al Rayyan Road and Dukhan Highway. The project is being developed in three phases. The QR1.01bn ($277.1m) first phase involves construction of 2.9 km of dual carriageway and three new interchanges improving links to Education City and Qatar Foundation, important sites for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Phase one kicked off in February 2014, with construction expected to finish in the fourth quarter of 2016. Phase two, worth an estimated QR3.4bn ($933m), is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2017 and will involve construction of a new 5.5-km dual carriageway, six major interchanges, six km of side roads and 11 km of service roads.
Ashghal reports that the QR49.74m ($13.6m) third phase, which involves the construction of temporary and permanent roads, water drainage works, water networks, and other supportive utilities and communications systems, commenced in August 2013 and is expected to finish sometime in 2016.
One of the largest projects under the Expressway Programme is the new Orbital Highway and Truck Route, a 189-km link between areas north and south of Doha. The highway, which bypasses the city, will provide a crucial link between the new Hamad Port and its neighbouring industrial city in Mesaieed in the south and Al Khor in the north, as well as providing critical connectivity to the planned Al Rayyan, Al Khor, Lusail and Al Wakra stadiums. The project includes 22 grade-separated interchanges, and is designed to manage up to 1500 heavy goods vehicles per hour in each direction, catering to general traffic volumes of 8000 vehicles per hour in each direction, with heavy trucks separated from general traffic in a bid to improve safety and traffic flow. It is a vital part of the state’s 2022 FIFA World Cup preparations. The project has been split into four packages. Contract one – for construction of a 45-km dual carriageway connecting Mesaieed Highway and Hamad Port in Al Wakra to the Al Wakra Bypass in the east – was awarded to a joint venture between J&P (Overseas) and J&P Avax. Contract two, for 45 km of dual carriageway connecting contracts three and four, as well as the Dukhan Highway, North Road and North Relief Road projects, was awarded to a joint venture between Qatari Diar Vinci Construction and Bin Omran Trading and Contracting. Contract three, for 55 km of dual carriageway connecting contracts one and two to the East-West Corridor project, was awarded to Leighton Contracting Qatar.
Construction on contract one began in January 2014, and after being delayed due to an overlap with planned utilities projects, construction for contract three began in March 2015 and is expected to wrap up within 36 months. Contract four, for 44 km of dual carriageway connecting contract two at Dukhan Highway to the North Road and the Al Khor Bypass, has yet to be awarded, although it could be forthcoming as the government prioritises upgrades in the northern neighbourhood – the Al Khor area is also expected to see all traffic circles replaced with intersections, according to a May 2015 announcement by the Ministry of Municipality and Environment.