Increased connectivity to boost Bahrain trade links

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As part of plans to tackle delays on the King Fahd causeway, Bahrain is taking steps to reduce waiting times and ease congestion on its road link with Saudi Arabia while larger measures are under consideration.

Recently-implemented proposals include the introduction of additional staff, improved parking facilities and a new clearing system for trucks which contributed to a reduction in waiting times in August, according to reports in local media.

However, more significant steps are on the table to relieve one of the most congested roads in the Gulf that saw more than eight million vehicles travelling across it last year.

On September 7 Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah approved plans for a second bridge, which will link northern Bahrain with the kingdom, according to the Bahrain News Agency. Plans for the bridge, to be called the King Hamad Causeway, were approved during a meeting between King Abdullah and Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Jeddah.

Another solution is the expansion of the King Fahd Causeway, a project which has been under consideration for several years. In April 2014 Badr Al Otaishan, director-general of the King Fahd Causeway Authority, unveiled plans for the construction of two 400,000-sq-metre reclaimed islands that would house processing facilities, as well as retail and entertainment complexes. The islands would be joined to the bridge by a 1.5-km road and have 48 two-way lanes, which would allow for the processing of 4,000 vehicles an hour according to a report in Arab News. The $500m project would increase capacity on the route by as much as 25%.  

Finding a solution to long delays

The 25-km King Fahd Causeway is a crucial component of the Arabian Gulf state’s economic growth strategy. Built in 1986, the road link with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain’s largest trading partner, has been a crucial artery for the flow of goods to and from the kingdom. By 2012 trade across the causeway was increasing by BD3.4m ($9.02m) per year according to the causeway authority. Commuter traffic on the route increased 11.9% to 19.7m passengers in 2013.

However, congestion and delays have been recurrent problems for cross-border trade. In July, Ahmed Dhaif, head of the Bahrain Transport Association, told the local press that the waiting time to cross into Saudi Arabia during the Ramadan period was five days. The problem, which stems from the number of vehicles and a lack of organised queuing, is not a new one. Dhaif told the local press: “Officials need to find a solution for the overcrowding issues we have been facing for more than three years.”  

Tackling the problem

Bahrain has taken interim measures to help ease the congestion. A directive from Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa has reduced the waiting period for loaded trucks by one-third to an average of 505 minutes between mid-July and mid-August, with a target of 240 minutes set for the end of August.

Local industries, logistics firms and trucking companies will be hoping this is not a false dawn. An earlier bout of congestion during the 2014 New Year period led to the announcement of plans to combat excessive delays including the establishment of 18 new passport booths on the Saudi side of the border.

Bahrain is also studying larger infrastructure projects to improve trade links. A rail causeway with Saudi Arabia is being considered as part of the $15.5bn GCC rail network. The two countries will conclude the study and determine in September whether they can meet the 2018 deadline for the rail link.

As part of this regional rail network, talks have been underway between Bahrain and Qatar since 2008 regarding the construction of a 40-km causeway, thought to be the world's longest man-made bridge. In November 2013, the Bahrain-Qatar Causeway Authority board commissioned a consultancy firm to review the designs of the BD1.1bn ($2.9bn) Friendship Causeway project, which include two rail lines as well as a four-lane road, according to local media.

Such projects should help improve an already robust trade environment for Bahrain. In 2014 the Gulf state ranked 81st out of 189 economies for trading across borders, according to the World Bank’s annual Doing Business report. This was a drop of two places on the country’s 2013 ranking and well below its overall ranking of 46th. While the kingdom is highly competitive on the cost of trading, it lags on the time required to import goods, in particular, taking four days longer than the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average of 11 days.

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