Friday, March 7, 1997
A-2 HIGHWAY THREATENS TO DESTROY COASTAL NEIGHBORHOODS
by Fareed Abou-Haidar
Lebanon.com reported on February 18, 1997, that, according to Keserwan
deputy Rashid el-Khazen, a proposed highway, the A-2, will cut through the
middle of Jounieh and threaten to create another Berlin wall. This
$400-million project would demolish some 240 buildings from Antelias to
Tabarja. Khazen proposed that the segment from Nahr el-Kalb to Tabarja be
built over the existing highway.
I was in Lebanon in Summer 1995 and had the misfortune of getting stuck in the horrendous traffic jams of the Keserwan coast on Sunday evening more than once. However, the solution to the mess is not building another set of highways. Here in Phoenix, Arizona, traffic is also very bad, and the solution has always been to build more freeways. It is unfortunate that public transportation has been neglected, but, at least, in Arizona there is plenty of land to accommodate wide, ten-lane freeways plus their medians and shoulders.
Lebanon is a different story. The entire country would fit inside metropolitan Phoenix. We cannot afford to imitate America and waste Lebanon's limited land on even more roads, especially ones that parallel existing highways. In the case of the A-2, a lot of agricultural land and open space would be lost in an area where such land has already become scarce.
Moreover, 240 buildings would be demolished. Thousands of people and businesses would be displaced and forced to move elsewhere. Thus, new buildings would have to be built to replace the lost ones, further encroaching on Lebanon's forests, rocks, fields, orchards, and other open spaces. The demolished buildings would represent a huge waste of natural resources in the form of concrete, floor tiles, bathroom fixtures etc. that would have to be replaced; much of the demand would be on Lebanon's rock quarries that have destroyed so many of its mountains. And, the new construction sites would add more to the dust, excavated soil, heavy truck traffic, pollution, and general chaos plaguing the country. Only real-estate developers and highway contractors would benefit from this boondoggle. In America, they would call it "pork-barrel project", or, simply, "pork".
Also, Jounieh would be cut in half. Earlier this decade, new freeways were th rust through the tightly-knit neighborhoods of New York City, disrupting thousands of lives as some people were displaced and others found themselves living next to noisy freeways and separated from their neighbors. Many of those areas eventually deteriorated into the burnt-out, graffiti-scarred, crime-ridden, drug-plagued wastelands for which New York City is so well-known. Since then, some other U.S. cities have learned from those mistakes and have designed new freeways with more care. Portland, Oregon, even DEMOLISHED a freeway running along the Willamette River, opening up the downtown area to the bank of the river. While Jounieh might not become another New York City, there is no need to severely affect people's lives and cut them off from each other. At the very least, the new freeway would make it harder to get around on foot, forcing more people into their cars and adding to local traffic and air pollution. More people would have to live next to noisy freeways, adding to psychological stress.
The solution? Make do with the existing freeway by improving circulation. This can be done by striping the road surface so that obvious lanes are created (and teaching people to use them!). Also, make the edges of the road obvious, and separate parking areas for shops from the road itself. Build sidewalks. Cut down on local traffic by not allowing access from the freeway directly to buildings. A real freeway should not have traffic pulling directly into and out of it to access buildings; such access would be via formal entry and exit ramps. The freeway in Lebanon, especially from Jounieh and on to the north, was apparently designed that way, but chaotic wartime construction has defeated the purpose.
Best of all, get people out of their cars! Improve train service along the coast and build nice, clean stations with parking areas where people can leave their cars. Extend the service along the entire Lebanese coast along the existing railroad right-of-way (which the government has foolishly proposed to sell off!). Establish modern bus service to complement the railroad and transport people to and from the stations.
Think what a country with limited financial resources can do with $400-million! There are a hundred worthy projects that would benefit, from establishing national parks to financing public schools to building railroad transportation. Anything would be better than continuing to pave over the country.