Route cause: Modernising Egypt’s roads is a high priority for the government

While the Suez Canal expansion has attracted most of the headlines, Egypt’s National Road Project offers perhaps even greater benefits to the broader economy, given that more than 90% of the country’s freight moves by road. As of 2012 Egypt had 121.4m km of roads, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics. Some 90% of the network is paved.

BOLD TARGETS: Announced in 2014, the project calls for 39 roads to be added to the current network, for a total length of 3200 km at a cost of LE36bn ($4.9bn). The first stage involves the construction of 14 roads at a total investment of LE13bn ($1.8bn). The president asked in 2014 that all these roads be completed within a year, a target that was confirmed by Tarek Kabil, the minister of industry and foreign trade, in late 2015.

As with the Suez Canal expansion, those ambitious targets may well be met. In a press report in October 2015, the Ministry of Transportation said it had finished 57% of the kilometres assigned to it. It is responsible for 1148 km of the total being built, and was committing a total of LE8bn ($1.1bn) to the effort. The Ministry of Housing said in March 2015 that the roads assigned to it would be completed by November. The other ministry involved in construction is the Ministry of Defence.

Planned roads include those from Ismailia to Banha, at 33 km, Sohag to the Red Sea (180 km), and Wadi El Natroun to El Alamein (134 km), which is key to connecting with neighbouring Libya. Long term, major priorities are the Ras Sudr-Sharm El Sheikh road, the Safaga-El Quseir-Marsa Alam road and the Alexandria-Abu Simbel road.

While Egypt’s trucking industry is highly fragmented and remains dominated by the informal sector, traffic is also an issue and connectivity to certain areas can be a problem. However, the links are getting better, and that is vitally important to businesses, especially those that operate in transport and logistics sectors. “We are seeing a lot of improvement in the roads,” said Ahmed Elfangary, DHL country manager in Egypt.

The value of investing such a significant amount, particularly in light of the country’s tight fiscal situation, is clear: a good road system will bring a wide variety of benefits. The quality of the roads affects the cost of transportation, speed of travel, and delivery and productivity.

“Roads will affect everything,” according to Safwan Khedr, professor of construction engineering at the American University in Cairo, whose area of specialty is geotechnical and materials engineering. “Smooth and nice roads are not a luxury.”

Multiple Benefits

In upgrading the network, the country is aiming to achieve better traffic flows, reduce congestion, traffic deaths and costs, and increase efficiency. High priority has been placed on road design and construction, and the hope is to have the projects meet international standards in terms of lighting, emergency areas, parking, crash barriers, signs and signals. The roads will also be constructed with an eye on allowing for less than perfect driving, so that small mistakes will not lead to serious accidents.

Recent Improvement

An estimated 62.9% of injury-related deaths in the country are the result of traffic accidents, according to a survey by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The road fatality rate in Egypt was estimated at 41.6 per 100,000 (compared with 5.4 in the UK, 13.9 in the US and 5.2 in Sweden) by the WHO in 2007. However, statistics suggest that the numbers have improved in recent years. According to the WHO’s “Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015”, the rate now stands at 12.8 per 100,000 people. In 2014, 6226 people in Egypt were killed in road accidents, down 7.5% on the previous year.