The idea of developing motorways in Pakistan was conceived in the 1990s. Backed with the ambition to build a world-class road network with initial projects worth $11.5 billion, this country emerged as the first in South Asia to boast modern European-style motorways – setting an example for India and others to follow. Essentially, the purpose was to reduce the load on heavily used highways (like the old GT Road) across the country.
However, then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accentuated the significance of motorways in these words, “motorway is not only a road network, but a living symbol of our passion and the project will prove to be a milestone for Pakistan’s development and prosperity.”
Since then, an expanding network of motorways has played a crucial role in linking most of the country, streamlining internal trade, boosting economic development, and is now enabling policymakers to leverage Pakistan’s geo-strategic location for regional connectivity. In 1997, M-2 was the first motorway that reached completion by connecting the megacity of Lahore with Islamabad.
Since then – and especially in the last five years – numerous motorways have been completed, including M-1 and M-4. The M-4 is now in operation as it connects cities of Pindi Bhatian, Multan, and Faisalabad through Jhang, Shorkot, Gojra, Khanewal, Toba Tek Singh, and Pir Mahal. M-3 became functional in 2019, which connects Lahore to Multan via Abdul Hakeem and the existing M-4 near Multan. M-3 ends at M-5, which also became operational in 2019.
The M-5 leads to Sukkur District, and from there, the M-6, under construction, will commence. M-6 will terminate at Hyderabad, where it will connect with the existing M-9 motorway in Karachi. Moreover, M-8, which is the longest motorway in Baluchistan, is still under construction and half operational.
In the central Punjab region, the M-11 which links Lahore with Sialkot will become operational next year. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, M-14 which connects Hakka to Dera Ismail Khan and Hazara motorway are under process whereas the Swat Motorway is completed and operational till Chakdarra.
Motorways, after 2014, became part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and National Trade Corridor project as they foster both inter-and intra-provincial and regional connectivity. As a result, through these projects, motorways aim to connect Pakistan’s three Arabian ports (Gwadar, Karachi, and Bin Qasim Port) to the rest of the country and the North with China, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.
Maintained, owned, and operated by National Highways Authority (NHA), with the help of FWO, 2429 kms of multi-lane, high-speed, and controlled-access highways have been completed; whilst the remaining 1312 km are under construction and planning.
FWO should be tasked to perform as a strategic construction organization of the Army and the country. Pakistan still has huge infrastructure development needs especially in far flung areas, difficult and hostile terrains; that’s where FWO should be tasked by the State to deliver strategic projects such as in South & Central Baluchistan. In Pakistan’s quest to open trade routes to Central Asia, FWO can come handy – Editor
Motorways; a gateway for stimulating economic development
Developing road infrastructure and stimulating economic growth is the goal of developing countries that lag in macroeconomic indicators. Road infrastructure plays a pivotal role in providing mobility for the efficient movement of people and goods. It also streamlines the availability of various commercial and social activities.
Additionally, updating road infrastructure on modern lines is essential to accelerate economic development. Policies focused on road infrastructure should be implemented hand-in-hand with urban growth policies and other socio-economic factors to realize sustainable economic growth.
All provinces and territories in Pakistan including Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir are now connected through the network of high-quality highways to help accelerate socio-economic development. The successive governments have invested billions in motorways to reduce poverty and ensure equitable economic prosperity in all regions of Pakistan.
Developing these motorways on modern lines has led to an up-gradation and decongestion of the country’s overburdened transport infrastructure. Moreover, the timely completion of the under-construction motorways will add an impetus to envisioned economic sustainability in the country. It is because these motorways as part of CPEC will open avenues for job opportunities and commerce within Pakistan, and end the sense of deprivation among people of far-flung areas.
Most importantly, through motorways, Pakistan can become a hub of regional trade by offering access to land-locked countries such as Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics. Under this win-win situation, Pakistan can increase its foothold in the Eurasian heartland and synergize its national interests in the best possible way. Evidently, in present times, modernizing motorways to augment commuter’s experience has become the need of the hour.
As cross-border trade has altered the mode of geopolitics, commuters look for various factors such as durability, speed, shorter distance, security, and comfort while embarking on commutes within and across borders. Therefore, to meet their needs, FWO has played a crucial role in upgrading the motorways on modern lines by reforming their existing capabilities.
Safety and Security
FWO, that is managing most motorways, has taken various measures to address security concerns of commuters. This takes the form of safe designing of highways, installation of safety fur on the road, fencing on the boundaries of highways and continuous upgradation of road structures. Ensuring routine maintenance throughout the year, is one of the key features of meeting the required standards of safety and effective commute on motorways.
The diligent use of information technology to streamline the commute on motorways is an important initiative by FWO. Through the installation of hi-tech security equipment i.e., Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Poles with survey cameras on motorways, FWO has effectively increased the safety of commuters as they guarantee a prompt and timely response to emergencies.
Additionally, through measures such as installation of surveillance cameras and 24- hour mobilization of vigilance teams on motorways, FWO ensures tighter security measures in the wake of theft and disruption of commutes. Traveling for long distances is a tiring and arduous task; the risk of wear and tear of vehicles on a drive is always present.
To ensure a satisfactory journey on motorways, FWO offers various amenities to the commuters: at carefully calculated distances, there are rest areas throughout the motorways and FWO ensures the maintenance of the facilities like dining and mosques on international standards.
Furthermore, through the introduction of international food chains, FWO ensures a comfortable commute for various social and commercial purposes. In case of emergencies such as vehicle breakdown, FWO has provided services of mobile workshops and rescue vehicles. Moreover, an efficient response system dovetailed with National Highways and Motorway Police (NH&MP) and Survey ITS Cameras ensures timely rescue of distressed commuters.
The mobile workshops are equipped with facilities to cater to all kinds of repairs to the vehicle. To respond to road accidents, prompt accessibility of medical facilities and ambulance services, is ensured at all Toll Plazas for any minor cases. In addition, major breakdowns are addressed through allied equipment such as heavy cranes to ensure recovery of heavy vehicles and major accidents.
Managing smooth movement on the motorways
Along with providing uninterrupted high-speed travel on the main carriageway, FWO has introduced an Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) at all motorways. This system overcomes traffic delays and congestion, along with reducing transaction costs for the government.
With Electric Traffic Toll Management System (ETTM), commuters do not need to fatigue themselves while waiting at Toll Plazas. Also, through M-Tags, commuters can utilize exclusive entry and exits from motorways without waiting in any queues.
In addition, FWO is working towards lane extension of all Toll Plazas with high traffic volume to avoid traffic congestion. Since the motorway is a hallmark of infrastructure development in Pakistan, its maintenance and enhancement are of paramount importance to the economic development of the country.
For districts, provinces, and regions to develop to their full potential, a robust and resilient network is essential. Most importantly, with the shift to geo-economics, motorways are necessary to ensure a seamless progression of trade and commerce across borders.
It is an opportune time for Pakistan, which lies at the crossroads of West Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia, to further develop its motorways on modern lines within the framework of CPEC to meet its strategic objectives. In this way, it can cultivate a latent power to better leverage its relations with its neighbors and achieve regional integration.