The last national census that cost the nation over Rs30 billion revealed how our population had crossed the 200 million mark. Because of this population explosion, our towns have expanded into cities and cities into megacities. And the mass exodus of people from various towns to the already bulging city of Lahore has turned the city into a sprawling metropolis. As a result, civic amenities have failed to cope with the haphazard growth of population.
About three decades ago, Thokar Niaz Beg, located on the western fringe of the city, was like a village with a few shops. But not anymore. It is now a confluence of six main roads and has developed into a hub of major development activities. The locality is also the starting point of the much-delayed Orange Line Metro Train project. The project was delayed because environmentalists were more concerned about the dilapidated heritage sites than the facility of travel the Orange Train was to offer to the public.
However, while Lahore has expanded in all directions, its main entry and exit points have always remained congested during all hours. Unfortunately, the hassle of driving into and out of the sprawling provincial capital has failed to draw the attention of the authorities. Hence, nobody enters or exits the city without being stuck at major choke points that cause traffic muddles, inordinate delays and distress to the travellers.
To top it all, the regional office of NAB and forensic laboratories have been established near Thokar Niaz Beg on the Multan Road, adding tremendously to the vehicular movement. On the opposite side of these complexes are located huge compounds of the National Logistics Cell and the Custom House. Next to the NLC is the regional office of the National Highway Authority and just across the NHA office is located a bus stand. Passengers, including the elderly, women and children cross the main road in front of the NHA office to board buses parked at the bus stand. And overlooking all these giants is the Motorway overhead bridge, providing access to the motorway traffic. The picture drawn here is meant to remind the authorities how the traffic situation exists on the ground.
The major hurdle in the flow of traffic, however, is a distance of 1.5km, from the U-turn near the NLC office to the U-turn near Shahpur, owing to the long-bodied buses and trucks that perilously negotiate to approach the bus stand and the NLC dry port. The traffic on this short distance moves at an extremely slow speed. It takes some driving expertise to get out of the jam unscathed.
Nevertheless, the good news is that the Punjab government has entrusted the NHA with the responsibility of developing 10.7kms of the Multan Road, from Thokar Niazbeg to Hudiara Drain, into eight lanes – four lanes for each one-way direction. Although the Multan Road widening project was planned years ago, it kicked off only a few weeks back. But by the pace at which the development work seems to be progressing, it will likely take a long time to complete. It is advisable to keep in mind that the half-completed road projects create a big nuisance for public, especially where the intensity of traffic is exceptionally high. A rainy season further aggravates the situation on partially completed roads. We learnt this the hard way – from the roads that remained dug up for months along the metro train project route.
Moreover, it is seldom that a project in the public domain suits the requirements of everyone. There always exist minor groups whose interests conflict with each other. But the interest of majority of the people must be kept in mind when conceiving and executing public projects. Will the chief minister of Punjab, who pursues development projects at a breathtaking speed, ensure that the Multan Road widening project completes in time? Will he live up to his unrivalled reputation of an eminent planner and builder of road networks in the province?
If he does, then besides adding a feather to his cap, he will be offering this city of gardens’ hundreds of thousands of commuters a trouble free traffic movement every day.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore. Email: pinecitygmail.com