The completion of a strategic section in the Chiffa Gorge gives a decisive boost to the project – born more than fifty years ago – of a road linking Algiers and Lagos.
Seven small kilometers. This is the size of the segment of the motorway between Haouch Messaoudi and Médéa that is due to be delivered in the coming weeks.
If the section is attracting so much attention, it is because it is the last of the Chiffa-Berrouaghia section (53 km), the most strategic of the expressway being built between Algiers and El Menia, over more than 800 km, essentially doubling the length of Algeria’s National Road 1.
This closes a major project on the Trans-Saharan, which will one day link Algiers to Lagos, thanks to a 4,500 km motorway, of which 2,500 km will be in Algeria.
Crossing this mountainous region, where the winding roads of the Chiffa Gorge have always been a bottleneck between the Algerian and the south of the country, was a great technical challenge.
To achieve it, 5 km of tunnels and 14 km of bridges and viaducts, the highest piers of which reach 70 m, have been built since April 2013 by China State Construction Engineering Corporation, in particular in association with the Algerian public groups Sapta and Engoa.
A regular in Algeria, the Chinese construction giant has designed tens of thousands of housing units, dams, sections of motorway, the great mosque of Algiers, and the extension of the capital’s airport since 1982.
Six connected countries
The deadline for completion of the section between Chiffa and Berrouaghia, originally set at thirty-six months, has long since been exceeded.
The cost of the project – 608 million euros initially – has also been revised upwards, although the amount of the new envelope is not known.
Delays and additional costs have regularly provoked the wrath of the authorities, forcing manufacturers to deliver the segments as soon as they are completed from 2017 onwards. One of the largest, between Sidi Madani and Hamdania (12.5 km), whose tunnels link the wilayas of Blida and Médéa, was opened to the public in July 2019.
The completion of the project is good news for Algeria, especially for motorists in the Chiffa Valley – about 20,000 a day – who will gain almost an hour.
As planned in the National Land Use Plan (Snat), the north-south motorway, of which 300 km are still under construction, joins the east-west motorway (1,216 km) in Algiers, which has been delivered since 2008, and the ports that the latter serves.
This is also good news for Africa, says Mohammed Ayadi, Secretary-General of the Liaison Committee of the Trans-Saharan Road (CLRT), which includes six countries, since if the main artery of this road crosses Algeria, Niger, and Nigeria, several branches join Mali, Tunisia, and Chad. “A feasibility study ten years ago showed that operators in northern Niger and northern Mali, who would move their goods via the trans-Saharan route from Mediterranean ports rather than the Gulf of Guinea, would save 11 days,” he says.
Nigeria and Tunisia have completed their portions, sometimes double-lane, and “generally on their own budgets”, as has Algeria (where 200 km of roads remain to be asphalted towards Mali), says Mohammed Ayadi, while Mali, Niger and Chad are using international financial institutions.
Among the last to be completed, the Arlit-Assamaka section (225 km, Niger) should be delivered this year by ETPBHGT (Algeria) and Gepco (Niger).
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All this, Mohammed Ayadi believes, “comes with the desire of the Heads of State to increase the volume of intra-African trade, which remains low (3%), at a time when the agreement establishing the AfCFTA has entered into force and when Algeria, anxious to change the paradigm in its approach to economic development, is giving signals of greater openness towards the continent”.