x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Jordan braced for more road congestion this summer

Holiday traffic to increase flows by up to 15 per cent, while works to address the snarls are actually increasing drive times.

AMMAN // Traffic congestion in Jordan is not as bad as in Cairo, Beirut or Dubai. Officials here even say there is no traffic congestion, but simply seasonal and rush-hour traffic. But ask locals and they will spew forth complaints of constant bumper-to-bumper traffic, particularly in downtown Amman where several construction projects are under way.

Although traffic flow has increased by about five per cent annually over the past decade, during the summer - when tourists from the Gulf, Syria and Lebanon pour into the country - it rises by 10-15 per cent annually in the commercial districts of Amman. "The flow is expected to grow as high as 20 per cent in Amman this summer," said Khaled Haddadin, the director of the Traffic Department at the Greater Amman Municipality.

"Summer is also a time when Jordanian families tend to go out more often, particularly during the evenings when the temperatures are cooler, shifting the morning rush hour to the evening." Last year, 700,000 cars entered Jordan, mostly from oil-rich Gulf countries, carrying both expatriates and tourists. Amman, originally built over seven hills, now spans an area of 19 hills. Population estimates have risen from 1.5 million in the mid-1980s to about three million, putting more drivers on the road.

Between 1998 and 1999, traffic in Jordan increased by 12 per cent after the government halved custom duties on vehicles. Earlier taxes hovered at between 100-120 per cent. As a result, the number of vehicles more than doubled in the years between 2000 and 2008, from 437,000 to more than 905,000. In 2004, traffic flow grew by 10 per cent in Amman as a result of an influx of Iraqis fleeing the war in their country.

The government is trying to address the traffic problem with two major road projects, each estimated to cost about US$31 billion. Both are expected to be completed in 17 months' time. One entails four bridges, a tunnel and a roundabout near a $5bn development site, the Abdali Urban Regeneration Project, which is to become the capital's business district. The first phase is scheduled for completion next year.

In the meantime, however, traffic snarls have grown worse because of the road detours the construction is causing. "The streets are narrow and there are too many cars," said Khalil Ahmad, who has driven a taxi for the past 28 years. "Traffic congestion has become worse over the past four to five years at certain times and in downtown Amman. "There are times when driving to [the city centre] takes half an hour instead of 10 minutes. The meter doesn't count the minutes when the car is not moving. It is a loss for us."

The second project in the works includes a 560-metre overpass that links outside areas of the capital directly to Western Amman, including two tunnels, with one connecting Western Amman to Queen Alia International Airport. The Greater Amman Municipality is considering other projects to ease traffic congestion, including space for public parking in the bustling commercial area of Sweifiyeh, which was inaugurated by Omar Maani, Amman's mayor, last month. The joint private-public project includes parking space for 750 cars and a shopping mall at a cost of $24 million.

"The project aims at reducing traffic congestion, especially in commercial areas like Sweifiyeh, through providing public car parks, thus minimising the random and sudden stopping on street sides which obstructs traffic flow and causes accidents," the mayor said. There will be six shuttle buses to take shoppers to their destinations, including the famed Wakalat street, a cobbled pedestrian street with clothing shops and street-side cafes.

Another project is a bus service that will have its own lane. "Studies are under way for this project," Mr Haddadin said. "We are hoping it will encourage Jordanians to depend less on their cars and use the new public transport system which will be based on international standards." To combat traffic congestion this summer, Brig Gen Adnan Freih, of the Public Security Traffic Department, said the focus would be on increasing the number of traffic police in popular areas and allocating more areas for parking.

But Brig Gen Freih said drivers' attitudes also needed to change. "People shouldn't go downtown in their cars as there are hardly any parking spaces," he said. "Many still double park in commercial areas because they like to park in front of the shops. Why don't they walk? Sometimes you see the same family taking two different cars to work in the same area." Another problem is that people have a tendency to double park near streetside vendors to buy watermelon to take home.

Also, when traffic accidents occur, residents often leave their cars where they collide instead of parking them on the side of the road as they think traffic police will not be able to figure out who is responsible for the accident. This was not necessary, Brig Gen Freih said. smaayeh@thenational.ae