Islamabad – It is a road much travelled by.
Foreign heads of states and dignitaries — guests of the Pakistani state — cruise over it in their well-guarded cavalcades as they are led to the heart of Pakistan’s federal capital. The country’s ruling elites and elected representatives use it during their time in office; their luxury cars often speeding and bobbing over the road’s increasingly uneven surface, with a police escort in tow. And, most importantly, numerous ordinary residents of the twin cities — school teachers, civil servants, white-collar workers, labourers — travel on this very road every single day in vehicles that are as varied as the pay cheques of the people who use them.
The Airport Road, which originates in Rawalpindi and runs along the Rawalpindi-Islamabad boundary, connects the only entrance and exit points of the Benazir Bhutto International Airport to the Islamabad Expressway at Koral Chowk.
It is no stranger to traffic and the signs of traffic fatigue are beginning to show on the road’s deteriorating surface.
Traffic congestion is not a major issue at Airport Road, except when the road is cordoned off for VIP movement. But the two-way road is pockmarked with potholes, which appear to be especially brutal along a 2-kilometre stretch between the Rawalpindi Flying Club & School building and the entry to Gulzar-e Quaid.
“It is a disgrace that this road which is not only used by locals but also foreign guests is in such a terrible condition,” said Muhammad Arshad, a taxi driver from the Chaklala area.
Arshad said the traffic load on the road warrants regular re-carpeting and repair. The road is not so bad that people cannot drive on it any longer, he said, but there are portions that need the attention of the maintenance staff.
The part of the road that leads up to the Dhoke Hafiz traffic signal is worst hit. There, the left-turning road is basically a set of regularly occurring potholes. Van drivers, who try to beat the morning rush hour traffic, often use the left lane to move quickly to the Dhoke Hafiz bus stop.
“The van shakes violently when drivers move to the broken part of the road,” Akhtar Hussain, a civil servant who commutes to work on the route 21 van, said. “It is like driving on a gravel road in a village.”
Technically, the road is part of Rawalpindi. But, according to the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board (RCB) Chief Executive Officer Rana Manzoor, the road lies just outside the cantonment area.
“The road was constructed by the Capital Development Authority (CDA), so its maintenance is CDA’s responsibility,” said Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) director Umar Farooq told The Express Tribune.
CDA spokesperson Malik Saleem accepted that the civic agency is responsible for the road’s repair and maintenance. However, Saleem said CDA had exhausted its current road repair funds and Airport Road’s maintenance must wait for the next annual cycle to commence.
“The CDA chairman Tahir Shahbaz has ordered CDA officials to conduct a proper survey and cost estimation of major roads and avenues that require maintenance, so the agency can allocate funds for them in the 2013-14 budget,” he said.
Meanwhile, regular drivers have gotten used to the road’s driving difficulty level.
Raja Khalid, another cab driver from the Shah Khalid colony area, said he drives frequently on the road so he knows how to avoid the craters. He admitted that navigation might be difficult for new drivers.
“Drivers often speed on the road because there are only two signals,” Khalid said. “At high speeds, it becomes difficult for drivers, who are new to the road, to navigate the potholes.”
CDA’s new budget will be approved this month, but the agency has struggled in the past to keep with development and repair work in the past due to shortage of funds.
For now, locals and foreigners will continue to have a bumpy ride on the Airport Road.