Over the last decade, Manama has spent BD725m ($1.9bn) on improving its roads, highways and other related infrastructure in an effort to improve efficiency and ease congestion on the island’s roads. In 2009 alone, Bahrain spent BD95.7m on building and upgrading the country’s road system, in line with the Strategic Roads Masterplan 2021.

The masterplan was drawn up in 2003 and aims to upgrade the country’s infrastructure including roads and flyovers in order to keep pace with real estate development.

In 2010, the Works Ministry is planning a further BD152m of road and highway projects in 2010, as part of Bahrain’s first budget for road projects.

“A lot of interchanges and roads are considered to need upgrading. We will widen certain highways and increase the performance of the network. We will also create future [possibilities] for expansion to ease congestion,” says Fahmi bin Ali al-Jowder, Bahrain’s Works Minister and minister in charge of the electricity and water authority.

The King Fahd Causeway has had a consistent growth in traffic of about 7.5 per cent a year since it opened in 1986

Upcoming projects

One of the first projects on the agenda is the BD98m North Manama Causeway. It is one of Bahrain’s largest transportation projects involving the construction of a 2.4 kilometre-long causeway on reclaimed land, 1.6km of road upgrades, a single-span 51-metre- long bridge crossing a canal, and a flyover running alongside the Bahrain Bay development. The ministry expects to award the contract shortly.

A team of Belgium’s Six Construct and the local Haji Hassan submitted the lowest bid of BD98m for the main construction contract in March 2009.

The consultancy contract for another project, the BD75m North Town Causeway, is also due to be tendered shortly.

Other projects in the pipeline include the upgrade of King Faisal Highway that will take place this year, and the grade separation of the Alba and Nuwaidrat junctions, which have a combined budget of BD45m. The tendering process for the junctions will start soon.

The roads budget for 2010 also includes the BD22m three-level interchange at Mina Salman Junction, due to be tendered before the end of April. The ministry is also planning a BD15m new highway from Manama to Al-Jazair beach in the south of the country, which is also going to be tendered shortly.

The principal driver of the kingdom’s road improvement plans is the chronic congestion that affects the country’s main arteries as a result of rapid traffic growth over the past five years. The numbers of cars in Bahrain has increased 10 to 12 per cent a year since 2005. Now, there are about 450,000 cars registered in Bahrain.

The congestion on the island is made worse by the traffic that enters over the King Fahd Causeway from Saudi Arabia. The problem will be further compounded by the expected increase in the volume of cars that will enter Bahrain from Qatar once the multi-billion dollar Qatar-Bahrain Causeway opens in 2015.

The design of the causeway is now complete and will comprise two bridges – one will be a total four-lane road for vehicles and the other will be a two-line railway. The Qatar and Bahrain Causeway Foundation is currently renegotiating the cost of the project with the consortium led by the joint venture of state-owned developer Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company and French contractor Vinci Construction Grand Projets. Construction is expected to start by August this year.

The forecast for traffic between Qatar and Bahrain when the causeway is complete is 4,000 cars each day in both directions.

King Fahd Causeway, which links Bahrain with Saudi Arabia, was originally built to cope with a traffic level of 4,000 cars a day, but has been known to reach up to 50,000 cars a day. The causeway has had a consistent growth in traffic of about 7.5 per cent a year since it opened in 1986.

“This causes a huge amount of pressure on the network. Manama is the worst hit by congestion, so we are trying to free up all the junctions to improve traffic flow in and out of Manama,” says al-Jowder.

The improvements to the island’s road networks are also intended to enable better access for people in outlying villages to the main urban centre, as well as to regional and international transport links. For 2010, the ministry has pencilled in 15 villages for infrastructure upgrades.

“I think the economic vision is trying to enhance the quality of life of everyone in Bahrain,” says al-Jowder. “Village improvements is a big project and [the aim] is to enhance the infrastructure and to improve road networks there.”

In 2009, the ministry carried out the design and planning work for road upgrade projects in 12 villages at a cost of BD29.8m. The design of 11 new roads covering a combined distance of 5.6km is now complete. The scheme forms part of the Village Rehabilitation project, which was launched in 2003 and has already improved the infrastructure of 17 villages. In addition to the work planned for 2010, work is still ongoing on several major road projects in Bahrain. The BD43m Isa Town Gate interchange is now 40 per cent complete and involves the construction of a three-level interchange, including the construction of an underpass to carry traffic along Sheikh Salman highway. The project also involves building a flyover to connect Sheikh Salman highway with Al-Estiqlal highway and a bridge to control the volume of traffic on the junction.

The ministry asked the original contractor South Korea’s Sungwon to step down from the project after it proved unable to meet its financial obligations. The local Nass Contracting Company was awarded the new contract on 8 April and work is now expected to be complete by September 2011.

Easing congestion

To further alleviate congestion, the ministry is also trying to create a free-flow corridor from King Fahd Causeway, through Muharraq and Salman port, and on to Bahrain airport.

Five interchanges were completed in 2008 on the 32km King Hamad highway, which will serve as the landing point for the Qatar-Bahrain Causeway. This will now be expanded to include four new junctions. Three flyovers on Sheikh Khalifa highway near downtown Manama are also now complete and the Bahrain flyover opened in October 2009.

Bahrain is looking at different modes of financing to fund all of its upcoming projects, including PPP

The ministry has carried out improvements on 14 junctions that were struggling to cope with the traffic load.

A 3km-long causeway connecting Manama with Sitra, a small island to the east of Bahrain itself, is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2010 and may be expanded further in the future as traffic volumes rise.

The Works Ministry is also planning a rapid transport system in line with the government’s Economic Vision 2030, which is the masterplan for Bahrain’s development up until 2030 which maps out the economic growth expected to stem from all sectors.

In line with the economic vision, the ministry carried out three transport-related studies between 2003 and 2008 and will review the studies this year.

The main study involves the construction of an integrated transport system which involves building six rapid transit lines at a cost of BD3bn and will be completed by 2025.

Under the first phase, an 11km light rail transit (LRT) line will be built to run from Bahrain airport through Manama and on to the Qatar-Bahrain Causeway. Phase one also comprises a 13km tramway that will connect Juffair with the Seef district.

Phase one is set to be completed by 2014 and the Works Ministry has already prequalified 10 international consultants to carry out the second part of the feasibility study. The winning consultant will have to determine the location of the stations and recommend how the project should be funded – either by the government or the private sector. Later phases will involve adding another four lines to the network.

The second study involves enhancing the existing methods of transport available in Bahrain, and the execution of this is expected to start early next year. The third study involves implementing a comprehensive traffic safety system in Bahrain at a cost of BD20m.

Bahrain is looking at different modes of financing to fund all of its upcoming projects, including building some of them on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis. There are plans to privatise not just roads and highway projects, but also some of the wastewater network and related facilities.

“We are trying to involve the private sector in owning [assets], such as sanitary services and also the roads and highway network. In the coming months, we will see the first PPP/PFI [public-private partnership/private finance initiative] projects for roads and highways,” says al-Jowder.

The Muharraq sewage project is Bahrain’s first privatisation project, which is to be developed over the next two and a half years by a private developer along with a deep-gravity sewer. It will treat 100,000 cubic metres of sewage each day initially and will increase to 160,000 cubic metres a day by 2030. Bahrain is not just focusing on upgrading its roads and developing a light railway network, but it is also expanding its airport located on the island of Muharraq.

Bahrain Airport Company (BAC) is carrying out a $4.7bn project to increase the airport’s capacity. The plans include building two new passenger terminals adjacent to the existing one. Once the new terminals are complete, they will boost passenger capacity to 27 million passengers a year from 4 million currently.

The first new terminal will have a capacity of 12 million passengers a year.

France’s Aeroports de Paris Ingenierie (Adpi) was issued with a letter of intent on 8 April stating it had been selected to carry out the masterplan for the airport, the chief executive of Bahrain Airport Company, Osama al-Ali, tells MEED.

Adpi will be responsible for the overall development plan of the airport, which includes two new passenger terminals. Contractors will be invited to bid for the construction contract for the expansion of the existing terminal in the third quarter of 2010.

“BAC invited Adpi to conduct a detailed development plan and once the plan [is] ready, [the] consultant and contractor will be invited [to bid],” says Al-Ali.

Bahrain Airport Company has also received 39 prequalification documents for the design and supervision consultancy of the two new terminals. It hopes to award the design contract for the terminals by November 2010, says Al-Ali.

Further spending

As the expansion of Bahrain International airport progresses alongside the expected increase in traffic entering Bahrain once the new causeway to Qatar is complete, the need to upgrade the infrastructure and increase capacity is clear.

The ministry estimates it will need to spend a further $1bn on building flyovers, underpasses and new transport links, as well as on improvements and maintenance of existing roads over the next three years.

While the new transport links are vital to the economy of Bahrain, the issue now is whether Bahrain can complete the projects on time. If it can, the country will become a true Gulf transportation hub in the Gulf with global links through its airport as well as regional access to Saudi Arabia and Qatar over the King Fahd and Qatar-Bahrain causeways.

If Manama fails to deliver its transport upgrades, the consequences could be very damaging. People living in Bahrain will have to cope with worsening traffic, and those who try to enter the country by causeway will have to queue to get in – and all that will await them is more congestion.