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Toll road concept ‘viable’ for Jordan

AMMAN
An aerial view of a road network in Amman. (File Photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
AMMAN — The recently launched Economic Modernization Vision brought back the concept of introducing tolls on main roads to help maintain them, an idea which experts believe is a viable option for Jordan.اضافة اعلان

The World Bank has been studying this idea for years to finance the project proposed by the government for the same goal. According to the proposal, the initial value of the project, whose goal is to “enhance the performance of Jordan’s road network and its financial sustainability by attracting private sector investments,” could reach $225 million.

A World Bank report issued in 2019 stated that the government is developing 14 major vital roads — 12 highways and two ring roads — with a total length of 1,379km.

The proposed roads would make 18 percent of the entire road network in Jordan, Al-Mamlaka TV reported.

The report suggested imposing a toll of 11 fils per 1km on small vehicles and double the amount, or 22 fils, on trucks to be allowed to use toll roads.

Former Minister of Transportation Lina Al-Shbeeb told Jordan News that the purpose of the toll road is to have sustainable funding because the fund allocation by the ministry of finance is not enough to maintain and rehabilitate roads.
It has been done somewhere else in the world. But we have to make sure that it is something that makes sense for Jordan and that it does not unfairly charge people,
“The longer the time roads are not maintained, the higher the cost of maintenance, or reconstruction,” she explained.

She said that toll roads would have a better service and quality that would minimize the damage done to the cars resulting from the current degraded roads.

Shbeeb stressed that roads must be rehabilitated to improve the quality of the existing highway, reduce operational costs, provide better road safety, and reduce emissions, which can be only done if funds are secured. 

Asked why the funds for road maintenance do not come from money paid by every car owner for renewing their car license, she said that the difference between the toll roads and the annual licensing fees is that the latter goes to the country’s general budget, with a small part paid for roads maintenance.

“Still, it is not enough, which is the reason for Jordan’s degraded roads,” she explained.

She said that the toll roads could be implemented according to distance and car weight. The larger the vehicle, the higher the toll. Therefore, trucks would pay more because they are the main reason behind damages to the road infrastructure.

However, Shbeeb pointed out that by imposing higher fees on trucks, the government would impose indirect costs on everyone because the price of products carried by the trucks would increase.

She said that the main challenge facing the government is to secure the needed funds to have the project get off the ground.

“People should be educated on the project and why it is important. So people should be a part of the decision-making process,” Shbeeb said.

Transport consultant Hazem Al-Zureiqat told Jordan News that the idea could potentially be viable for Jordan. He concurred with Shabeeb on the degraded state of Jordan’s highway network. He pointed out that Jordan does not have sufficient funds dedicated to road maintenance.

“What we are talking about here is imposing tolls on highways to secure funding specifically for road maintenance,” he said. “The idea is to have a company that would take over a highway, manage the toll system, and take a percentage out of the revenue, while the remainder goes for road maintenance.”

“So, this specific project is only for solving maintenance issues,” Zureiqat said.

Ideally, the government would provide free alternatives for people unwilling to pay the charge, he said. Other options could also be imposing tolls on certain types of vehicles, or at certain times of the day, or on days of the week.”
People should be educated on the project and why it is important. So people should be a part of the decision-making process,
“It could be in the peak hours or on trucks only, or high emission vehicles,” he predicted.

“There is a lot to be considered in implementing the scheme; technically, it is easy to implement. The technology is available, and we are not reinventing the wheel,” he said.

“It has been done somewhere else in the world. But we have to make sure that it is something that makes sense for Jordan and that it does not unfairly charge people,” Zureiqat added.

He noted that the challenge is not technical as much as it is the social acceptance. “People are used to using roads for free, and parking for free in many settings”.

“I’m an advocate for charging for road use, but I think it should make sense and be fair, and in many cases, we should provide people with alternatives because when you charge for the use of public roads, you run the risk of hurting the economy,” he said.

Zureiqat pointed out that imposing a charge without alternatives could lead to suppression of travel, which would hurt the economy.
There is a lot to be considered in implementing the scheme; technically, it is easy to implement. The technology is available, and we are not reinventing the wheel
He recommends that the government start charging the toll only on commercial vehicles, like trucks rather than private passenger cars.

“I am for the idea of locating funding sources for road maintenance. We need that sort of funding because we have delayed road maintenance so much, and we can see that in projects like the desert highway, for example, it could’ve been cheaper if it was done years before,” Zureiqat concluded.

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