February 27 - March 4, 2008
Gulf Weekly WE'RE ON THE MOVE!

Working in his office in the heart of the bustling and crowded metropolis of Manama or on site, Public Works Affairs under-secretary Nayef Omar Al Kalali is no stranger to the endless traffic congestion and the daily nuisance and frustration of a chaotic commute into the capital.

Mr Al Kalali is on the frontline of dealing with the incessant traffic and road works revolution currently gripping Bahrain.

He and his team, under the leadership of the Minister of Works Fahmi bin Ali Al Jowder, are helping to shape the country's future by building a modern infrastructure that will take the kingdom forward on the road to prosperity and economic growth.

He is a man who strongly believes in the American inventor and visionary Alan Kay's popular saying: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

"We are taking every proactive step to improve the traffic congestion issue. We don't have a magic wand but we are actively on the move to improve," said Mr Al Kalali reiterating that all the road construction projects will be completed within budget, scope and proposed deadline.

And the message to motorists is:_sorry about the current problems but be patient because things can only get better.

Mr Al Kalali is today sharing his vision and outlining those plans for GulfWeekly readers.

AS motorists fume over the island's endless traffic congestion, the Ministry of Works is ensuring that the road works continue as planned to give Bahrain a modern infrastructure to solve the frustrating delays.

"We have a very ambitious road construction programme that is based on a long-term strategic roads masterplan which was concluded in 2003. Since then we have been implementing this master plan consistently and have accomplished many projects with countless others underway," said Public Works Affairs under-secretary Nayef Omar Al Kalali adding that the masterplan has three categories - immediate solutions, medium-term schemes and long-term plan - each targeting specific objectives and addressing particular traffic problems.

The immediate road scheme addresses the issue of roundabouts at key locations. Under this plan the roundabouts have been converted into traffic signals to ease congestion.

"This has resulted in an increase in capacity at these intersections by 30 to 40 per cent in addition to providing a better traffic flow," he stressed.

The Al Hoora roundabout, Al Andalus roundabout, Ministry of Works roundabout, Salmaniya roundabout have all been transformed into junctions as part of this scheme.

Part of the immediate and medium schemes currently under construction are the Bahrain map junction in Tubli, north Manama causeway providing an indirect link to the financial harbour and Bahrain Bay project, Sitra causeway project, redevelopment of Umm Al Hassam junction, a flyover extending from Seef going towards Manama which is due to be completed in July and many more.

"We believe that to tackle the traffic problem there is a complete system approach because road network improvement and expansion solves only 20 per cent of the overall congestion issue," said Mr Al Kalali indicating that the complete system approach pyramid is an all important feature that the ministry has developed to counter the menace of traffic and focusing on one element in the five-pronged approach is simply not enough.

Smart 'land use planning' tackles the root of the problem which means most of the people are heading towards the North Eastern corner of Bahrain like Manama and the Diplomatic Area where most of the traffic attraction establishments are located.

According to Mr Al Kalali, who is also the vice-chairman of the planning authority, relocating such establishments and dispersing them in proposed zones and using a decentralisation approach will reduce the traffic congestion by 30 per cent.

This is a long-term plan and the ministry has started identifying the traffic generating establishments and plans to approach them this year with the proposal to relocate.

"The most important infrastructural need for the kingdom now is an effective public transport system.

"Currently only three per cent of the total population uses public transport but we are hoping that with a new, reliable and attractive system at least 30 per cent of the population will utilise it eventually.

"The study into building the new public transport system is currently ongoing in collaboration with the Ministry of Transport which will conclude in March after which it will be put up for approval at the ministerial sub-committee," said Mr Al Kalali refuting earlier news that the government is already steaming ahead with building a rail and metro system on assigned routes.

Another challenge for the authorities is the growing number of vehicles on the roads of Bahrain.

The growth in car ownership in Bahrain is nine to 10 per cent annually whereas the growth of population is only three percent.

So the growth of car ownership is three times as much as the growth of population which exceeds the expectations of traffic officials.

The General Traffic Directorate revealed that the number of vehicles retested and registered in the kingdom in December 2007 was 359,124.

This number is estimated to increase to 443,576 vehicles by December 2010 and to 484,108 by December 2012.

The traffic restraining policies set by the policy-makers look into this aspect but according to the undersecretary, economic prosperity, which enables people to buy cars, cannot be quelled to address this issue.

Intelligent transport system (ITS) is another aspect of traffic management technique which aims to take care of an additional 10 per cent of traffic congestion.

ITS employs the use of several technologies like electronic signage, improving synchronisation of traffic signals, using cameras and other methodologies to maximise the traffic flow.

According to Mr Al Kalali the ministry has studied ITS's effectiveness and is currently at the stage of inviting tenders.

Apart from solving the traffic issue the Ministry of Works is working alongside the new developmental projects to provide the vital road links to Manama.

One of the recently completed highways is the King Hamad Highway leading to Durrat Al Bahrain which is the longest continuous highway in Bahrain measuring 30km serving several villages on the way.

As roadworks continue with relentless construction and reconstruction and frustration levels of drivers continue to boil over Mr Al Kalali's only advice to motorists is to be patient and consider the bigger picture ... as by 2010 considerable road improvement would have taken place to ease traffic woes. And that's a promise.

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