Karachi expressway elicits protests

Published: Friday 31 August 2007

pakistan's plan of a 25-km elevated expressway in Karachi, linking the city's airport and two ports, has triggered protests in the country. Opponents of the us $350 million project point at financial unviability and a skewed environment impact assessment (eia) report. But the City District Government Karachi (cdgk), the project proponent, argues that the expressway will minimise traffic load. The project will be built by ijm Corporation Berhard, a Malaysian firm.
Credit discard The project would require cdgk to pay Pakistani Rs 1 billion to the Malaysian firm over 20 years. cdgk plans to source this amount through toll tax but experts say the option is not viable.

"If you divide us $350 million with 20 years and again with 365 days, and charge Rs 20 from a car as toll tax, you would need to charge a car every three seconds for the payback. That is extremely far-fetched," said an architect who did not want to be named. "It will be an additional burden to pay the amount," he added.

Arif Hasan, Pakistan's leading town planner who vehemently opposes the project, said "The eia does not deal, in statistical terms, with the impact of the proposed road networks on the traffic patterns along the Shahrah-e-Faisal corridor, the city's artery. The existing road networks consist of three ring roads, signal-free radial roads, the Lyari Expressway and the Northern Bypass. A study on how the proposed expressway will impact the existing road network and traffic pattern is a must."
EIA, a nice formality Hasan rejects the eia's claims that expressways in South Asian cities have solved traffic problems. "A number of publications by Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, say that such solutions have been expensive, causing considerable environmental and aesthetic degradation and creating immense problems for pedestrians.

Cities like Seoul and Boston are busy demolishing their expressways and flyovers. A number of Latin American cities, like Curitaba and Bogot, have solved their traffic congestion problems without constructing elevated expressways. Why do we need to follow failed examples?" he asked.

The Institute of Architects, Pakistan, has also come out strongly against the project. In a letter to the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (sepa), it said "The project has been conceived in isolation by cdgk to reap political capital. It is devoid of any practical or technical justification. The eia report does not address the format prescribed by the official sectoral guidelines for environmental reports on major roads. Besides, it is not required because there is limited traffic between the airport and the two ports."
Development diversion ahead Civic rights activist Ardeshir Cowasjee said the proposed expressway is unnecessary, expensive, and ecologically unfriendly. "Our scarce tax resources would be better spent wisely on making improvements in the basic infrastructure of Karachi. The key to development lies in better planning and stricter implementation of laws," he said.

Roland deSouza, a spokesman of shehri, a civic rights' organisation, is also sceptical. "The expressway is a grandiose and pretentious symbol to establish that Pakistanis are second to none. It will help serve the purpose of colourful newspaper supplements in the lead to elections," he says.

The us $225 million project in March 2006 escalated to us $350 million in September and is likely to increase to an unknown figure by the time it is completed. "The money will be charged from citizens," says deSouza.

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