It seems as if the capital’s distinction as the country’s only planned city is set to be erased. That is, if a proposal to steamroll routes for the planned metro bus service for the twin cities isn’t challenged in time.
Tree-lined avenues will become a thing of the past and Islamabad will lose its leafy-green character if the proposed routes for the metro bus are approved.
Despite resistance from the capital’s civic agency, the Lahore-based project consultant has yet to address concerns about expansion of avenues and consequent destruction of green belts in violation of the master plan. The consultant has recently forwarded a plan detailing route alignment for the project.
Nespak has proposed the expansion of 9th Avenue and Jinnah Avenue, which involves the elimination of a green belt stretching over hundreds of acres east of Agha Shahi Avenue, commonly known as 9th Avenue, and west of sectors I-8, H-8 and G-8, if the plan is approved.
After flaws in the design were pointed out by the CDA’s planning wing, officials were rendered speechless by Nespak’s answer. “The Lahore Development Authority never pointed out such lacunas during the design phase of the Lahore Metro Bus project,” CDA officials were told.
Instead of addressing the reservations on technical grounds, Nespak officials replied that they had to follow deadlines given by the Punjab government, said a CDA board member.
According to the plan, the IJP Road carriageway of 9th Avenue will be converted into a dedicated corridor for the metro bus, while an additional three lanes will be carved out from the green belt along 9th Avenue to accommodate traffic heading towards IJP Road from Kashmir Highway.
The CDA objected to the plan, positing that Nespak could use the 7.2 metre wide median on 9th Avenue instead of destroying the green belt.
“In line with international standards, seven metres is enough to carve two lanes out of,” the member said. He said instead of incorporating the suggestion, Nespak informed the CDA in writing that “plans to this effect have already been finalised.”
The official said Islamabad’s master plan not only provides for conservation of greenbelts but also identifies greenbelts on both sides of 9th Avenue.
“Jinnah Avenue will be widened up to six metres on both sides,” states the plan. This entails destroying the green median on both sides of the road, while a dedicated corridor for the metro bus will also eat up the emergency lanes on both sides of Jinnah Avenue.
“We have suggested Ibn-e-Sina Road be used as an alternative route in place of Jinnah Avenue. The metro bus can pass through Fazl-e-Haq Road and enter Jinnah Avenue to reach its final destination, Pak Secretariat,” the official said.
“The Islamabad master plan also identifies the same route to facilitate commuters to Pims and Sector G-8.” The amendment was incorporated at a time a bus rapid transit system was being considered for the capital. That plan would have cost a fraction of the metro bus project.”
A CDA official said Nespak officials designed the route while sitting in their Lahore office without conducting any pre-feasibility or feasibility studies. Nespak will receive Rs 1.3 billion as consultancy fee --- 3.5 per cent of the project’s total estimated cost of Rs38 billion.
Nespak Project Manager Danish Raza said the firm was finalising the route alignment in consultation with the CDA. Raza shifted responsibility for designing the route to the CDA, saying it was purely related to the civic agency and that Nespak was only suggesting possible routes.
In reply to a question about the reasons Nespak did not carry out a feasibility study despite the fact it would earn billions from the project, Raza declined to answer, saying he was not allowed to speak to the media.
In a January meeting chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to finalise preparations for project, it was decided that the Rawalpindi Development Authority would be the executing agency for the project, effectively limiting the CDA’s role.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2014.