Saudi Arabia: Why Jeddah needs an infrastructure upgrade

More than ten years ago, the Saudi Transport Minister at the time made a presentation to the governor of Makkah on his ministry’s plans to develop a comprehensive public transport system in Jeddah. The project was to be carried out in three phases.

Following the presentation by the ministry, Makkah Province Governor Prince Khaled Al-Faisal announced his administration’s plans to implement a number of vital projects in the province, including an SR21 billion tram system linking the various residential districts of Jeddah.

The plan for developing Jeddah’s public transport system was prepared by Canada’s IBI Group, which provides a full range of services related to the movement of people, goods, and information within and between transport facilities. The company is a leader in multidisciplinary organisations offering services in four areas of practice: Urban Land, Facilities, Transportation, and Systems. The study by the IBI Group for Jeddah would offer intelligent transport plans and advanced public transport solutions to efficiently manage and operate transportation systems through the application of technology and information.

The Governor stated that the trams would pass through and link the 12 main streets in the city, adding that the annual operation cost of the new system would reach SR370 million. “The Ministry of Transport has a plan to operate 816 buses to link the city’s various districts as part of the new plan,” the governor said. Although no timetable was mentioned for the start or conclusion of the project, the Governor added that the new system includes commuter and tourist trains.

The envisioned public transport system, which uses monorails, buses and trams to link the various arteries flowing through Jeddah’s residential districts, which would bring about a revolution in the city’s traffic system. The project also involves 201 stations and dozens of trams. A metro similar to the one being established in the capital Riyadh would also be an integral part of Jeddah’s transport system.

The metro would consist of three lines, including one connecting the old Makkah Road to the city centre, the second running along from King Abdulaziz International Airport to the site of the old airport, and a third bisecting the city along Palestine Road. Prince Khaled added that the Jeddah Mayoralty was constructing a number of bridges, tunnels and underpasses at a cost of SR5 billion to remove traffic bottlenecks in various parts of the city. A new bridge linking northern and southern Obhur Creek was also in the plans to facilitate traffic and reduce traffic congestion.

While the function of the Ministry of Transport is to undertake the design, building, and maintenance of the Kingdom’s network of roads, they are also responsible for the coordination of all surface transport, including bus services and railways.

The Governor concluded by disclosing plans to establish more recreational facilities in the city. “Efforts are underway to establish 150 parks in various parts of the city,” he said, adding that Jeddah required 15.74 million square meters of green space, double what was already in the city.

This was welcome news for Jeddah residents who have long become weary and frustrated at the road conditions they face daily. From traffic congestions to road diversions and potholes resembling mini-craters, motorists in the city have had a rough time just navigating around the past few decades. The toll on nerves and automobiles in the last few years has been incalculable. And neither has the construction of the recent flyovers made any significant impact on reducing congestion.

While there has been incremental progress on the establishment of parks in many neighbourhoods, and some easing of traffic due to the construction of some flyovers, the lack of connecting trams is obviously visible.

And while residents at the time were jumping up with joy upon hearing such announcements when first broadcast, they are still wondering whatever happened to the system of trams in the city. But first and foremost on their minds would be that the current conditions of most of our streets and roads be fixed first and effectively, please!

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena

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