Baku Traffic Hell

Building bridges in Baku to avoid traffic jams brings only more jams.

Baku Traffic Hell

Building bridges in Baku to avoid traffic jams brings only more jams.

Under a grey and gloomy sky that threatens rain, a rattling old bus appeared from around a corner bumping along a pot-holed road and came up alongside a long line of other buses. All of them, desperately overcrowded, were sounding their horns without pause.

“Traffic jams! Again,” Tahir Aslanov, a 42-year-old overweight bus driver, banged his fist on the steering wheel. “What kind of cigarettes do you have?” he shouted nervously to the driver of a neighbouring bus. “Give me one.”

Tahir has been working as a bus driver for more than 15 years. He says Baku’s roads used to have traffic problems, but feels they’ve never been as busy as they are now.

“In the past two or three years the traffic on Baku streets and highways has got very heavy,” he said. “That was actually the reason why the government started building bridges and new roads. But now because of the new road-building the traffic jams have got even more frequent.”

According to the press service of Azerbaijan’s transport ministry, “As road-building is being conducted mostly on the crossroads of streets and avenues, it is impossible to regulate the traffic there.” The ministry has therefore warned Baku citizens that “traffic problem will become persistent during the road-building work”.

According to the Baku traffic police, there are now almost 317,000 vehicles registered in Baku, of which almost 90 per cent are privately owned, fuelled by Azerbaijan’s impressive economic growth and oil wealth.

In March 2006, the president ordered the government to start a big building project aimed at unblocking the roads, removing traffic jams and creating a modern transport infrastructure.

According to the presidential plan, a new highway will be built between the airport and central Baku and there will be nine bridges, 13 underpasses and dozens of car parks. The cost of the whole project is 300 millions mantas (more than 263 million euro). At the moment, the government is using only its own money, but it may seek to attract foreign capital for the project as well.

Under plan, the Baku municipal authorities and the transport ministry must also implement a scheme to develop Baku’s transport network up until 2030.

Two of the planned bridges are almost ready and on December 24 (the birthday of Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev) the head of state himself will cross them for the first time.

“The first goal of the great project is to unblock the roads and prevent traffic jams,” said Naila Qahramanova, 53, a schoolteacher, with apparent initial enthusiasm that turns to indignation. “But the result we see is the exact opposite. Before the start of the bridge building it took me about 40 minutes to get home from work, now it’s an hour or sometimes even more.”

According to the main police headquarters in Baku, police chief Magerram Aliev issued an edict creating special police units which will regulate the roads at their most crowded points and try to clear traffic jams. These units are already working on the streets.

“I wouldn’t say they help a lot,” complained Mehti Asadov, a 37-year-old manager at an oil company, who has been driving on the streets of Baku for more than ten years.

“These police patrols don’t keep the situation under control - there are still a lot of traffic jams in Baku,” said Mehti with a grin. “The only thing they do pretty well is collect fines. Of course, when traffic is so badly organised they can easily find a reason to fine you.”

Another measure taken by the city authorities to reduce the traffic jams was to prohibit the selling of newspapers at traffic lights.

“You shouldn’t call this pressure on the media or freedom of speech,” said Shamil Seyidli, who heads the public security department. “The ban on newspaper sales at the lights is also very important for the security of the people selling them.”

“It is good that our government began this programme at last,” said Nurana Pashayeva, 29, a Baku resident. “Because there are too many cars in the city and the roads are too crowded. They are in a very bad condition, so the project was started just in time.”

“But it still doesn’t solve all the traffic problems,” she said with a sigh. “The construction itself now causes many more problems and traffic jams. In other parts of the city, the roads are still too jammed even though there is no bridge or underpass construction there. So I think traffic jams will be a big feature of our life for at least another two or three years.”

Tamara Grigoryeva is a correspondent with the APA information agency in Baku.

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