JAL AL-DIB, Lebanon: With plans to construct a tunnel aimed at replacing the dismantled Jal al-Dib bridge at a grinding standstill, the town’s municipality voiced its readiness to build a temporary bridge to offer a solution and soothe mounting tensions.
The town’s Mayor Edouard Zard Abou Jaoude told The Daily Star that given the nature of the “intolerable” traffic situation, and after much deliberation, the municipality has taken the decision “to insure a temporary steel bridge in place of the old one, until a contractor is asked to begin work on the tunnel.”
The proposed bridge will be similar to the dismantled one in terms of structure and will provide both an entrance and exit lane connection to the highway, an important asset for the municipality and residents alike.
The mayor said 16 years have passed since the issue of installing proper entrances and exits for Metn roads was first discussed, Jal al-Dib in particular. “Even though many projects have been discussed between the Council of Development and Reconstruction and the municipality ... to date, no project has been finalized,” he said.
The Council of Development and Reconstruction recently proposed a scheme, titled the “L project” which would provide an entrance to Jal al-Dib from the highway coming Jounieh, directing traffic right into the town’s square.
The municipality, however, rejected the plan, arguing that it would create heavy traffic inside the square without providing an exit toward Beirut from the town.
Rebuilding another bridge, albeit temporary, is a cheaper and more effective alternative as far as implementation is concerned, and will not require changing the existing infrastructure or doing away with shops by the highway.
The municipality will submit its proposal laying out the plan for the temporary bridge to the Council of Development and Reconstruction in the coming days.
The Jal al-Dib bridge, built after the start of the Civil War in 1975, was dismantled in 2012 after many officials warned it was at severe risk of collapsing. The decision came despite the opinions of a number of engineers that the bridge was in sound condition.
The bridge was dismantled before alternative plans for it were proposed, compelling many of the town’s residents to hold weekly protests.
A group of six local engineers then drew up plans for an underpass to replace the bridge and met with the CDR, which was tasked with the responsibility of conducting technical studies to present to the Cabinet, which would then decide whether to approve the project.
Months later, the tunnel was given a greenlight from the Cabinet, but with no set deadline and no funding in place for the project, which is estimated to be somewhere in the millions, progress on the matter was stalled.
The CDR predicted it would take at least three years for the tunnel to be completed, especially as there needs to be changes made to the existing infrastructure, including electricity networks, telephone cables and water systems, as well as the shops nearby.
Meanwhile, traffic has become unbearable for residents in the neighboring areas of Antelias and Jdeideh, which is used by commuters as an alternate route to Beirut, as there is no direct exit to the highway from Jal al-Dib to the city center.
Business owners in the area, particularly in Jal al-Dib square, have become more vocal about their distress over the bridge issue, saying they are concerned they’ve lost a significant number of clients during an already fragile economic time.
“The client is avoiding the area,” said Adele Ibrahim, an employee at the retail store Sako.
“People are getting stuck in traffic for hours and have to take different routes, so they don’t pass through here anymore,” he said.
Ibrahim also said that business has hit an all-time low due to the deteriorating security situation.
Next door, Samira Sarkis Qouba gestured wildly as she asked The Daily Star to take a look inside her store, which was completely vacant.
“Look at this sight! A large store like this empty of clients,” she said.
“They have frozen our businesses, there is nothing left,” Qouba added, saying she held the government responsible.
Owner of the store, Ani Timonian, agreed with Qouba, who she said was his only employee, as she has had to fire the others to cut costs.
“Since they dismantled the bridge, the store has been empty,” she said.
Timonian, echoing the sentiments of other businessmen and residents in the area, said that a new project should have been agreed upon before the bridge was dismantled.
“Some people are sitting around getting paid, while others are dying of hunger,” she said.
At the clothing shop Cute Kay’s, Madonna Kaady and her son Fouad were busy with a client, perhaps the only one at the strip of stores by Jal al-Dib square.
Kaady gestured for her son, who ignored the call and focused all of his attention on the woman rummaging through the racks of clothing.
“No one comes here anymore, that’s for sure,” she said.
Like Timonian, Kaady said the bridge should be rebuilt, saying the one before had been stable and should not have been dismantled in the first place.
Her store has been open for five years, she said, and business had been booming. Now things were much different.
“It’s bad enough the security situation is worsening,” she said. “Now we have to deal with this.”