E-11 interchange: boon or bane

May 28, 2023

While the authorities are convinced that the E-11 interchange will improve connectivity in the city, environmentalists are raising concerns about its impacts

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As Islamabad expands, so do its problems -from traffic congestion, water shortages and waste disposal mismanagement to inadequate housing and transport requirements of the working class.

It appears that the Capital Development Authority has a one-fits-all solution for the city’s problems; mega-development projects. After the construction of 7th, 9th and 10th Avenue and Bhara Kahu Bypass, another large-scale project is being undertaken. It is the E-11/3 interchange.

The interchange that will link Margalla Road to the Motorway is being undertaken by the National Logistics Cell (NLC) and the CDA. It will begin from one end of the under-construction Margalla Avenue and stretch till Khayaban-i-Iqbal between E-11 and F-11.

It will be a three-lane highway, a little over 5 kilometres long. It will be constructed on Khayaban-i-Iqbal and will connect with the existing Margalla Road.

The plan to construct the E-11 interchange was proposed shortly after the federal government revived its plan to relocate the military headquarters to E-10. The project aims to ease traffic from the GHQ and provide access to motorway.

CDA officials assert that the interchange will enhance connectivity in the city and make it easier for its residents to access various sectors.

The authorities also believe that the project will contribute to economic development by attracting businesses, investment and commercial activity, thereby generating economic opportunities.

However,not everybody is as optimistic. Many people have expressed concerns regarding the environmental impact of the project. According to some, the project will alter the boundaries of the protected Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP). This will include cutting many trees.They worry that air and noise pollution will increase once the highway has been constructed.

Urban planner Ayesha Majid disputes the official vision. “Improving mobility means increasing access for communities to places of education, work, healthcare and recreation. Expanding the road network serves that purpose in a limited sense. It benefits those who have private vehicles while excluding those who don’t. An increased vehicular flow discourages walking and use of bicycles,” says Majid.

“Mindless expansion of roads is a short-term solution.Traffic congestion inevitably increases after a few years. Provision of affordable public transport, on the other hand, is more socially inclusive and environmentally benign. It caters to a wider segment of the population while keeping the emissions low and green open spaces intact,” says the urban planner.

CDA officials says the E-11/3 project does not fall in the MNHP. They also say the CDA’s Environment Board is working on mitigating the environmental impacts by replanting most of the uprooted trees and planting new green belts along the way.

In response to the concerns raised by environmentalists, Captain Anwar ul Haq, a member of the Environement Board, CDA said that the authorities will try their best to mitigate the environmental impacts of the project. "We are planning on initiatives such as a replantation campaign. Every tree that is cut will be replaced with another one, in a new green belt" the official assured.

The CDA needs to shift towards an inclusive and sustainable development paradigm and prefer projects that are beneficial for the environment as well as the local communities, rather than those that create more problems and cater to a limited number of people.

However, some urban planners and environmentalists say that the proposed measures will not be sufficient to counter the negative impacts. Some say that the original masterplan itself is flawed.

According to Faizan Khattak, an urban planner, the E-11 interchange is little more than another addition to the capital’s ‘car-centric infrastructure.’ “This has negative consequences such as increased traffic due to induced demand, increased temperatures due to urban heat island effect and increased air pollution due to vehicle emissions,” Khattak tells TNS.

“At the heart of the issue is the Islamabad Master Plan, created in the 1960s when car culture was at its peak. Later urban planners have realised the dangers of building urban highways and promoting urban sprawl. However, the CDA is not paying attention to the new approach,” he says.

“Rather than building such projects, the CDA should focus on creating a mass transit system and launch a web of bus lines. Otherwise, the future of Islamabad is a polluted one,” says Khattak.

Badar Alam, CEO of the Policy and Research Institute for Equitable Development says, “There is a pressing need to move away from contract-based development projects that primarily benefit motor and cement industries. Instead, the authorities should transition towards research-based, sustainable and carefully planned initiatives that provide genuine utility.”

Alam says some road projectsonly serve the purpose of further expanding the cities. He suggests that a more comprehensive evaluation of the true utility and long-term value of such projects is necessary to ensure that they align with broader development objectives and address the specific needs of local communities.

Alam raises concerns about the adverse consequences of certain projects, such as the displacement of indigenous populations. He urges the adoption of suitable measures to prevent displacement and minimise environmental degradation.

Zeeshan Ashfaq, an energy expert and environmentalist, says that while improvements in the transportation infrastructure generally enhance accessibility and connectivity for people living in a city and its suburbs, it is possible that the E-11 project will affect the natural habitat of some wildlife species.

“Authorities need to strike a balance between development and environment. The government should direct more resources towards public transportation,” says Ashfaq.

Omar Abdullah Khan, a political worker, is of the opinion that economic growth needs to be “de-coupled from environmental degradation if we are to create a sustainable future.”

Addressing the negative impacts of development projects requires a holistic approach to urban development. It involves incorporating environmental considerations into the planning, design and implementation of projects, promoting green infrastructure, adopting renewable energy sources and ensuring proper waste management practices. Additionally, public awareness and participation in decision-making processes are crucial to ensure sustainable and environment-friendly development in cities.

The CDA needs to shift towards an inclusive and sustainable development paradigm and prefer projects that are beneficial to the local communities. Instead of building development projects that create more problems and cater to a limited number of people, we need to focus on sustainable and inclusive development.

The writer works at a think tank for environmental and energy policy.

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