The E35 Expressway or Hazara Motorway was launched a few weeks ago, connecting the Hazara division to the M1 Motorway.
Ask the people of Hazara and they will tell you the importance of motorways in so many words. This new motorway is a game changer for the people of Hazara.
Previously connected via the extremely congested and risky Karakoram Highway at Hasan Abdal, commuters were faced with challenging driving conditions that made the 80 KM journey from Hasan Abdal to Abbottabad, a stressful 2.5-hour ordeal.
The new road takes around 1.5 hours from the centre of Islamabad to Shah Maqsood, till where the current motorway has been constructed. Once completed, the journey all the way to Abbottabad will take under 2 hours from Islamabad.
Having commuted on the old and new routes, I would like to share my experience, while also highlighting some key areas that are essential to a safe and pleasant driving experience as our motorway network expands under CPEC.
The E35 Experience
The Hazara Motorway branches off from the M1 motorway right after the Burhan interchange. Running somewhat parallel to the old KKH (Karakoram Highway), it intersects the KKH at Hattar, then moving to the right of KKH with interchanges at Kot Najeebullah and Chechiyan, eventually terminating at Shah Maqsood.
Future extensions will take it all the way to Thakot, making it a key link in CPEC. Along its current route, it connects the key areas of Hasan Abdal, Hattar Industrial Area and Haripur, providing them quick and easy access to the major cities of Peshawar, Islamabad & Lahore. In the near future, with the launch of the New Islamabad International Airport, this road linkage will provide easy access to the airport as well.
As someone who has frequented the old KKH route, as soon as you get off M1 onto the E35, you realize that the world has changed. The new three lane motorway, in a matter of 20 minutes, gets you into Haripur. Previously this could be 45 minutes to 1 hour of tiring process of dodging trucks, minibuses and donkey carts on a congested two-way road, meandering through several small towns. A journey in which you could easily use your nine lives by the time you reach your destination.
It has now transformed into a pleasure drive that lets you cruise through in minutes. While machinery can still be seen on the road and some of the interchanges and toll booths still require completion, one sees the work going on in full swing and should be completed soon.
The relief this road brings can be felt when talking to locals. Sheharyar Khan, owner of the GGSS Haripur system says,
This road has opened up several opportunities for us. Lots of people commute daily to work in Islamabad and this road allows them to live at home in Haripur and work in the city. This was a long-standing need for our community and we are relieved to finally have a safe way to commute.
As the motorway network grows and becomes the preferred choice of motorists, the increasing pressure on the existing motorways is already becoming evident.
Even before the inauguration of the Hazara Expressway, the M1 was experiencing high traffic volumes between Burhan and Islamabad. Now with the traffic joining in from Hazara Expressway and the New Islamabad International Airport expected to be operational in a few months, the M1 & M2 sections near Islamabad will continue to face the pressure.
Even now, at peak hours, the three lanes from Burhan to Islamabad are moving at 100KM/hr with ill-disciplined drivers breaking the smooth flow of traffic. To make matters worse, the Toll booths on the transit points of M1 & M2 and M1 & E35 are adding to the congestion.
The M1 toll plaza, crammed under a bridge, is lacks the capacity to manage so many vehicles and you can see queues for miles. What was once a nonstop transition from M1 to M2, can now take 30 minutes.
If measures are not taken to address these issues, sections of the motorway will transform into any other local city road and the purpose of having a motorway will be defeated.
Motorway Police or Speed Checkers?
A main contributing factor to the road congestion is the total disregard of driving rules and discipline. While our motorways are way better than our city roads, the current situation is far from ideal.
The problem comes from slow moving vehicles occupying the fast lanes. Reckless overtaking with total disregard to lane discipline make matters worse. These driving habits disrupt smooth flow of traffic and impact the total capacity of the road.
There was a time when the Motorway Police played a visible role in driver education and in working towards traffic discipline. Of late, they just seem to be interested in generating revenue for the department by issuing over-speed tickets, with total disregard to any other violations.
If the role of Motorway Police is just to check speeds, do we really need highly trained police officers for this task? The Motorway Police need to take responsibility and enforce road discipline, while educating motorists on driving regulations.
There is a need to introduce a minimum speed rule and fine motorists that use the overtaking lane for the whole journey. Dilapidated cars, visibly of unworthy road condition should not be allowed to enter the motorway. Strict action should also be taken against heavy vehicles driving recklessly and impeding the flow of traffic by overtaking into the fast lanes.
Such actions are desperately needed to keep the sanity in driving on our motorways and the police has a key role to play.
Nevertheless, it is good to see the progress happening in Pakistan and these roads will play a big role in ushering prosperity into our country.
Umer is a freelance contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]