By Fakhar Alam
PESHAWAR (APP):Expressways play a pivotal role in economic and tourism development of a country.
Moreover, these provide an easy access to isolated and less visited destinations of tourism, heritage and archeological sites in order to generate substantial revenue for the national kitty.
Like most of the developing countries, tourism industry is underperforming since long in Pakistan despite its enormous potential primarily due to poor transportation system and lack of roads to interlink tourists’ destinations through enhanced motorways’ network.
To take full advantage of the rich tourism potential of Khyber Pakthunkhwa, including seven districts of Malakand Division, the former PTI Government had taken a principled decision to construct state-of-the-art 81 kilometers long Swat Expressway to explore the hidden treasures of Swat, Chitral, Dir Upper, Dir Lower, Kohistan, Shangla, Buner, Mohmand and Bajaur districts before the world.
The Swat Expressway commences from Karnal Sher Interchange in Swabi district on Peshawar-Islamabad Motorway and concludes at Chakdara in Dir Lower district after passing through 21 bridges and 1300 meters twin tunnels on the National Highway N-45.
Former KP chief minister Pervez Khattak had performed the ground-breaking of four-lane 120 kilometers high speed fenced Swat Expressway on August 25, 2016 to provide an extra and fast track communication facilities to thousands of travelers visiting this part of the country on daily basis.
The long awaited project passed through difficult phases of tunneling, construction and land leveling, and finally its 51 kilometers patch from Karnal Sher Khan Swabi Interchange up to Katlang Mardan was opened for vehicular traffic on May 21, 2018.
Engineer Barkatullah Khan, Project Director, Swat Expressway told APP that work on the second phase from Katlang Mardan to Chakdara Lower Dir district had entered into last stage of completion and as per the directives of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the entire expressway would be opened for vehicular traffic on May 25, 2019.
“The Prime Minister has given clear instructions for its opening on May 25 to facilitate the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including Malakand Division. We are working against the time to complete it,” he said.
The construction work on 1.2 kilometers twin tunnels, besides 21 bridges and 25 acres service area on each side of the expressway, have been completed.
“The Swat Expressway is presently four lanes that will be later converted into a six- lane motorway,” Barkatullah said, adding the KP Government has planned to extend this project up to Mingora, Swat, for which feasibility study had been completed and the PC-1 was submitted to the Federal Government with a request of Rs 10 billion for payment of land cost to construct 37 kilometers Chakdara-Mingora section in later stage.
“Total cost of the Swat Expressway is currently Rs 34.165 billion, including an allocation of Rs 6.865 billion for purchase of land and resettlement of people,” he said, adding Rs 11.5 billion had been injected by the KP Government while the remaining amount was paid by the donor agency,” the PD said.
He said extra care was adopted in disbursement of payment among the land owners and the process was transparently done through deputy commissioners, revenue and other govt officials concerned .
The expressway, he said, was being constructed under Public Private Partnership (PPP) with help of Frontier Works Organization (FWO) that would get its invested money back through toll taxes in 25 years after its completion.
Being declared an environmentally safe project, he said, traffic movement on the expressway would be monitored through an Intelligent Transport System (ITS) and prompt help would be provided to commuters in case of road mishaps.
The project would give a direct access to all seven districts of Malakand Division to down districts of KP, reducing problems of traffic, congestion, vehicle operating costs (VDCs), time, and would promote agricultural economy and social harmony, he added.
The project would help connect Chitral through Lowari Tunnel and onward linking it with Afghanistan, Tajkistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs) route that would make Pakistan a hub of business, trade and tourism. The KP Government had also planned to construct CPEC City at Nowshera near Swat expressway that would be proved as game-changer for the province.
Tourism Corporation KP (TCKP) General Manager Sajjad Hameed told APP that all the tourists’ sites connected by the Swat Expressway will be manned by tourism police that would formally take over charge in Malakand and Hazara divisions soon after Eid-ul-Fitr.
With the launch of new online policy, he said, hundreds and thousands of tourists were expected this year in Khyber Pakthunkhwa mostly to Malakand and Hazara divisions as last year over three million tourists had visited the province.
The TCKP GM said special counters would be set up at Bacha Khan International and other airports in KP to facilitate domestic and foreign tourists in the upcoming summer season.
“We have identified 20 new tourists sites mostly in Hazara and Malakand divisions that will be linked with the Swat Expressway and Hazara Motorway to reduce load on existing tourists sites at Kalam, Malam Jabba, Behrain in Swat, Nathia Gali and Thandyani in Abbottabad districts,’ he said.
The TCKP GM said the KP Government had been requested to hand over 157 rest houses, which were still in the administrative control of other departments to provide inexpensive accommodation facilities to tourists.