BEIRUT: The 50-year-old bridge atop Charles Malek Avenue in Ashrafieh, used mainly by advertising companies and political parties as a platform for ads and campaign posts is slated to become part of a mega highway project.
The mega project will reconstruct and extend the deteriorating bridge for one kilometer in order to connect the international highway in Hazmieh to the Charles Helou highway in Beirut. But in order to proceed with construction plans, some residential buildings in Ashrafieh will have to be demolished.
Officials at the Council for Development and Reconstruction expect construction on the so-called Fouad Boutros Project to start this summer and conclude in 2016, with costs projected at around $60 million.
“[There will be] a number of bridges and tunnels in the 1-kilometer-long project [once it is complete],” said Elie Helou, a senior project manager at the CDR.
“Traffic will not be interrupted [by incoming cars from] intersecting roads,” he added.
Planned and partly implemented in the early 1970s, Helou said that the project would greatly reduce traffic in and out of Ashrafieh by giving commuters bound for Charles Helou “direct transit” to the highway.
“Instead of making a big turn in Ashrafieh to reach Charles Helou, commuters coming from the Sayyad roundabout or Hazmieh and the Hotel Dieu areas will have a smooth ride,” Helou told The Daily Star.
The Beirut municipality has owned a large chunk of land needed to advance the project since the 1970s, but a number of additional residential areas need to be purchased as well by the municipality once a judge designates the market price of individual apartments.
Helou said $30 million would be paid out to the tenants and the owners of apartments in Ashrafieh and some others in the Mar Mikhael neighborhood.
Helou also said that the CDR has launched a tender process to choose a company proposal that meets the financial and engineering standards set by the city’s municipality for the project.
But officials at the Public Works unit at the municipality said that they were kept in the dark about the details.
“All we know is through the media, we have neither been consulted nor given the chance to share our opinion about the project,” one of the officials at the unit told the CDR in a letter Monday.
According to political sources, a network of politicians, activists and residents in Ashrafieh are communicating with each other in an effort to replace the Fouad Boutros project with alternative road construction ideas.
“This project has not been studied properly and it goes contrary to Ashrafieh’s structure,” said one of the activists who refused to be identified, because negotiations are still ongoing.
“The money is there, but instead of building highways in Ashrafieh’s oldest streets, the municipality should carry out modern projects that would provide long-term solutions to the city’s problems,” he said.
“Thousands of people curse Charles Malek every day because the project was not studied properly when they agreed to go with it. Should people also curse Fouad Boutros every day?” he asked.
“There are many different ways to solve traffic problems in Ashrafieh and building a big tunnel on Charles Malek Avenue is the best [alternative] to introduce long-term solutions,” the activist said.