Economy, Business And Markets

A Project Full of Holes

A Project Full of Holes A Project Full of Holes

The government is pushing to wrap up the forever delayed construction of the so-called Tehran-North Freeway, a major road project connecting the capital to the famous tourist resort city Chalus in northern Mazandaran Province. The commitment seems all the more serious now that the economy has opened up with better prospects for foreign investment in infrastructure projects.

Many say despite the fact that the project will shorten the distance to the benefit of holidaymakers who see the Caspian resorts as their main destination, the huge rush of vehicles to the region after completion of the freeway in the absence of adequate transport, medical and environmental infrastructure in the host cities can pose serious challenges.  

“Once the freeway is fully open we will certainly face a major traffic problem in Mazandaran cities, Chalus in particular,” CEO of the Tehran-North Freeway Company, Mehran Etemadi was quoted by IRNA as saying.

“It will also have many after-effects in the region, in terms of construction, urban development and protecting the environment,” he added.

During the extended holiday in July, between 2-3 million people mostly from Tehran and its suburbs headed for the Caspian resorts, many of them spending up to 24 hours in traffic instead of the normal five.

Having been constructed decades ago, the current routes from Tehran to the North have limited capacities and lack safety standards.

The under-construction freeway will address those issues to a large extent, but at the expense of inviting more vehicular traffic that will be added to the cars heading to Chalus from other routes.

“Due to the traffic congestion from the rush of tourists, most locals living in the urban or rural areas have no choice but to stay indoors during most of the weekends,” says Chalus Governor Mohammad Naser Zandi.

A professor at the University of Chalus, Mehran Esfahani, also refers to the negative social and environmental impact of the unusual tourist arrivals. “This will distort the distribution of population in cities and villages in a heterogeneous manner.”

“It also will make rescue services at times of natural disasters such as earthquakes, landslides and floods a serious challenge,” he added.

The protracted project has been one of most controversial construction projects in recent Iranian history.

Initially, a group of Iranian engineers living in the United States proposed the Chalus freeway project to the government of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani,  president from 1989 to 1997.

The government rejected the proposal, assigning the Mostazafan Foundation—the largest charity and the second-largest conglomerate in Iran—with the project.

The project has faced a series of problems regarding funding and executive affairs. Despite the list of constraints, construction work gained momentum during the incumbent administration.

The $2.3 billion freeway includes four phases that span 121 kilometers.

The 32-kilometer Section 1, from west of Tehran to Shahrestanak Village, will reduce the current route t by 60 kilometers. Etemadi says this section has made 60% progress.

Seven contractors are currently working at 120 construction sites along this section so that this leg of the project will be completed by March 2017.

Section 4 of the freeway, which is 20 kilometers long and connects Marzanabad in Kelardasht District to Chalus (both in Mazandaran), was inaugurated in March 2014, but was later closed to the public due to technical problems.

The government is currently in talks to find contractors for the second and third phases that are more challenging and pass through rugged and mountainous terrain.