Problems on hold
On 25 September 2019 I wrote about the great, ambitious construction project that took unawares the residents of the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. The project reshapes the traffic axes that connect Heliopolis to Suez in the east, to prepare them for the fast-growing traffic movement to New Cairo and Egypt’s New Capital now under construction 40km east of Cairo.
I say that Heliopolis residents were taken unawares because they woke up one morning some three months ago to an attack by an army of crushers breaking down roads and consequently disrupting traffic or blocking it altogether on some roads, closing U-turns and stalling traffic lights on main intersections. All that without any preliminary notification to residents, as though the matter did not concern them. No road sign indicated the nature or volume of the project, its licence or the contractor executing it, as required by law. Worse, it was obvious that no traffic redirection had been arranged or alternative routes planned; the result being excruciating chaos. Under the title “Almaza residents under siege” I wrote: “It frustrated and provoked Almaza residents and frequenters of the area to be taken unawares with never a notification or official word of explanation. Their lives were turned topsy-turvy by the traffic turmoil created by the construction work; it didn’t make matters any easier that no clear traffic routes were denoted as alternative for the ones closed by construction. Drivers were left to their own wit and devices to override the crisis of inaccessible roads. “Unfortunately, this attitude of failing to inform the public of disruptions to their normal way of life on account of significant, ambitious, beneficial projects has become customary with our government. I know officials will not like what I write, and can almost hear them remarking: ‘We work so hard for public benefit, yet no one is ever satisfied’, or ‘Is no one ever grateful or appreciative of our efforts?’; ‘Is criticism all we ever get?’ The truth in the Almaza case, however, is that officials have adopted an attitude of arrogant ‘couldn’t care less’ in obscuring what project is being implemented, and are guilty of gross negligence for failing to plan and prepare alternative routes to the ones blocked by the construction work, also to install signs and guideposts to direct drivers to them throughout the duration of the said project. Predictably, chaos has ruled supreme, with drivers going in circles to find some way out of the blocked labyrinth, and succeeding only at great loss of time and effort, to say nothing of the considerable nervous stress. The resultant chaos has turned five major traffic axes in Heliopolis into a living hell of traffic pileup round the clock.”
If this was the case three months ago, has anything been done to avert the failings that have so disrupted Heliopolis? No, nothing at all, apart from a few insignificant signs here and there that denote the traffic axes involved in the construction project. But the intolerable chaos reigns, exacerbated by everyday changes in the construction process, leading to almost everyday changes in traffic movement. Drivers have to discover on their own how to navigate the unimaginable web of blocked roads; it has become a bitter joke that different routes have to be figured out each day by which drivers could leave, enter, or drive through the district, a seemingly interminable game between drivers and the tyrannical contractor in charge of executing the project of who could out-manoeuvre or out-manipulate the other. The chaos is made worse by drivers who throw to the wind all traffic rules and drive recklessly through the wreckage; and why shouldn’t they since they see almost no one in responsible command. The only thing the government appears to be doing is generously stacking iron rails to block specific areas, carrying the message: ‘No Parking, courtesy of Cairo Traffic Authority’.
The features of the great project are already showing: huge bridges and flyovers that guarantee flowing traffic and that will make intersections and traffic lights things of the past. When the project is inaugurated, high-ranking government officials will proudly boast and tout its benefits, forgetting or disregarding the unnecessary cost of pain at which it was executed. They will brush aside the deplorable seizure of the rights to safety, security, and stability of the residents and frequenters of an entire district.
I wish to draw attention to a few points before I close.
The project under construction is huge and ambitious; I acknowledge this so that no one would accuse me of seeing only the negatives or being a spoilsport. But apart from that, it is disastrous that the construction companies involved in the project have plucked out the old rails of the Heliopolis metro, and the gardens and trees on the sidewalks and middle aisles of the old roads, leaving behind extended pits some 60cm deep on both sides of what is left of the roads, without any protective railing. Any car on the road might fall into the pit if anything goes wrong, with appalling consequences.
Finally, is it goodbye to the green, peaceful suburb of Heliopolis?
4 December 2019