World Cup factor weighs on Qatar transport plans

04 July 2010

Hopes are rising in Doha that it will be shortlisted to host the FIFA World Cup Finals in 2022. It’s an exciting prospect, but one that is making life more complex for Qatar’s transport planners

It might seem strange to write about the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals when this year’s event is barely half-way through. But that is what is happening in Qatar this summer as the country’s campaign to host the finals in 12 years’ time reaches a climax.

FIFA will name the countries shortlisted for 2022 on 2 December 2010 and Qatar is determined to be one of them. The view in Doha is that if it makes the shortlist, its chances of winning will be excellent. The Middle East has never hosted the finals and the moment is surely coming when the region’s claims will have to be recognised. With enough money to pay for it and having proven itself by hosting the Asian Games in 2006, Doha is well-positioned to break the mould and bring World Cup football to the Gulf.

But what is a source of growing excitement for Arabia’s football fans is a headache for those responsible for planning investment in Qatar’s infrastructure. Almost 400,000 football fans will visit South Africa this year. To ensure Qatar is ready for an influx on this scale means investment will have to start almost immediately.

The possibility of hosting the World Cup has come at a critical moment in the development of Qatar’s infrastructure. Its transport master plan, which was completed in 2008, is being updated to take into account the sharp increase in population in the past two years. When work on the plan began in 2006, Qatar’s population was reported to be 800,000. The latest estimates are there could now be 12.5 million people, including foreigners, living in the country.

The transport strategy will also be conditioned by the Qatar National Master plan now being written. This is based on the Qatar National Vision 2030, a statement published in 2008 that called for a comprehensive transformation of the Qatari economy.

A key element of Qatar’s transport infrastructure is the plan for a national railway system, including a four-line urban light rail network. This is being implemented by Qatari Diar, the government real estate investment corporation. The scope of the system will be influenced by whether or not Qatar hosts the 2022 World Cup.

The prospect is already spurring unprecedented activity at the Public Works Authority (Ashghal), the government department responsible for executing all Qatar’s road projects. Speaking at MEED’s Qatar Transport 2010 Conference in Doha last month, the head of Asghal’s roads and drainage network design department, Jamal al-Kaabi, said that the authority is now pressing ahead with one of the Middle East’s most ambitious road investment programmes.

Eight major highway contracts should be awarded by the end of the year and bids are to be invited by the end of July for the Lusail Expressway. About 12 kilometres long, the expressway will be a key element in Doha’s road transport system, as it will connect the centre of the city with the new city of Lusail. Plans for the expressway reflect the significance of the project. The winning contractor will be responsible for delivering one of the most complex stretches of road the world has ever seen. It will comprise a bridge and two big underpasses. The contract also calls for the construction of sections of tunnel along the route of the expressway that will be used by the light rail line to be built by Qatari Diar.

Further major projects will be put out to tender in 2011 and 2012. Ashghal’s spending on transport infrastructure is set to rise sharply. Al-Kaabi said the goal is to meet Qatar’s needs and that there are no budget constraints.

Ashghal is adopting radical new measures to ensure the roads are built on time. The authority is inviting bids for companies to provide project management services for 29 priority projects as well as for the whole of Qatar’s road network. To facilitate this process, the country is being divided into five zones. Each will have a project manager responsible for delivering the entire road network in that zone.

Meanwhile, work is continuing on other key elements of Qatar’s transport network. The New Doha International Airport is due to open by the end of 2011. Bids have been submitted for the first major elements of the New Doha Port. Plans for the project have been accelerated. Phases one and two are now to be completed in 2014 to create a port with capacity to handle 4 million 20-foot equivalent units a year.

This is thrilling news for the projects industry, but there are worries. There are doubts that Qatar has sufficient construction industry capacity for what is coming. Qatar’s reputation for being slow in making decisions about projects damages confidence. Qatar’s existing infrastructure is insufficient to support the massive influx of people and material that will be needed to complete the new projects.

There are no doubts, however, that Qatar has the money to pay for everything it wants. Rising liquefied natural gas exports and high oil prices are generating more income than the country is likely to spend. And the government is determined to push ahead with the next phase of Qatar’s modernisation programme.

All eyes today are on World Cup events in South Africa. But minds are already turning to the prospect of Doha hosting FIFA next decade and the extraordinary opportunities that will be on offer in Qatar in the years in between to everyone involved in building bridges, roads and highways.

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