ISLAMABAD, Oct. 15 (INP): The recently-completed phase-I of the Swat Motorway has diverted the bulk of traffic from the existing Swat-Peshawar highway, the lone artery connecting the scenic north-western areas of Pakistan’s KP province with Islamabad-Peshawar Motorway (M1), says a report published by Gwadar Pro on Thursday.
This put an end to the traffic mess on the road passing through the most populous region of the province, this scribe observed during a visit to Mardan, Malakand and Dir districts.
The traditional 4-lane Swat-Peshawar highway passes through Charsadda/Nowshera, Mardan, Malakand and Dir districts. These districts are densely populated and during the past decades, scores of towns and cities have grown on both sides of this road.
One of the first two Special Economic Zones under CPEC, the Rashakai SEZ, also falls in this belt.
According to the report, a 60-km stretch of the road from Rashakai to Dargai remained blocked for hours in the past due to heavy traffic load. Now with the dramatic drop in vehicular count, traffic movement on this highway has smoothened and the graph of fatal accidents has declined.
In a developing country like Pakistan, very few projects have such large-scale and visible impact like that of the Swat expressway.
For decades, for people of north-eastern parts of KP, taking this road to travel to Peshawar or Islamabad was a nightmare, especially when there was no alternate route, and the haphazard traffic was a big source of road accidents that occurred frequently.
Mohsin Kamal, a resident of Shergarh Town of Mardan, narrated that people worried about their loved ones commuting on this road due to the higher accident ratio. All educational institutions and business centers are located along this road, so it was a constant source of insecurity among the people here, he said.
Saifullah, a resident of Timergara, a major city of Dir district, said that earlier it had to be a thorny journey to Mardan where he has to travel frequently due to business and family matters. The road is now safer with lesser traffic burden and traveling has become easier and smoother, he said. It also takes lesser time to reach your destination now, he said.
The project is not part of CPEC but had been initiated by the provincial government on a build, operate and transfer (BOT) basis to provide for an alternate route parallel to the main CPEC corridor passing through KP’s north-eastern Hazara region.
Phase-I of the expressway intersects M-1 in Swabi/Mardan districts and leads to Chakdara, wherefrom one road leads to Chitral and the other to Swat.
The expressway had been envisaged long ago to ease the traffic burden on the existing Swat-Peshawar road and avoid Malakand pass while traveling to north-western parts of KP province.
Nonetheless, the government was unable to take practical steps to develop the road until CPEC was launched in Pakistan. The then chief minister of KP, Pervez Khattak, lobbied extensively for the main CPEC route to pass from north-western KP, but the federal government instead opted for the north-eastern side of KP for the main corridor.
It was then that the KP government decided to develop an alternate route for China-bound traffic. Experts believe that once completed, the Swat expressway will become a route of choice for vehicles traveling to China for being shorter and passing through level terrain for the most part.