Transportation experts in Egypt have called for the performance of regular maintenance on the country's roads and bridges, given their role in alleviating the country's traffic crisis and enabling the economy to function.
"It is vitally important that this part of the infrastructure be given attention due to its importance and the fact that it is a central component of the national economy, because good traffic flow in all regions naturally facilitates commercial activity," said Amer Mabrouk, a civil engineer and advisor with the Directorate of Roads and Bridges in Cairo.
"Furthermore, expanding the road network to areas outside urban centres translates into the establishment of new agricultural, industrial and residential areas," he added.
Despite the country's large network of roads and bridges, the current traffic crisis necessitates further expansion and new projects, said Mabrouk.
In 2012 there were 1,530 bridges of all types in Egypt, according to a report by the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, a 3% increase over the previous year, and 121,390 kilometres of roads, up 2% from 2011.
The majority of bridges and roads are managed by city councils, Mabrouk said, which maintain them in co-ordination with the relevant ministries and the directorate. They are empowered to act in cases where maintenance cannot be postponed, such as road or bridge collapses.
As the Nile bisects Cairo and other Egyptian provinces, bridges are essential for commuters and for the transport of goods, he said, and require periodic maintenance.
Mabrouk said he estimated the annual cost of maintenance work on the road and bridge network at 2.2 billion Egyptian pounds ($323 million).
Egypt's recent political upheaval has had a negative effect on the country's roads and bridges, he added, citing truck drivers' non-adherence to maximum load limits on bridges and the congestion caused by road closures.
"This caused the network to bear loads that exceed its capacity by at least 50%," he said, adding that some bridges have suffered collapses and surface cave-ins due to excessive overloading.
Maintenance teams are working with a number of specialised firms to perform urgent repair work on roads and bridges in key areas or those classified as posing a danger to lives, he said. The directorate is also reinforcing roads and bridges used by heavy-duty vehicles, he added, and co-ordinates constantly with security agencies to deter overloading.
Ismail Farajallah, a bridge maintenance official in Cairo, said a failure to carry out necessary maintenance "is a direct waste of public money and will have direct repercussions in the near future when many roads and bridges become unusable, which will cost the state's treasury enormous amounts of money to renovate or replace them entirely".
"The current situation requires an iron fist to put a stop to the encroachments, as well as a comprehensive, large-scale media awareness campaign for citizens," he told Al-Shorfa.
Mansour Gad al-Haq, director general of Al-Nisr engineering consulting, construction and contracting company and a member of the Egyptian Federation for Construction and Building Contractors, said road and bridge maintenance is an important and difficult process which has a direct impact on people's lives.
Gad al-Haq told Al-Shorfa his company conducts bi-annual maintenance work on some of Cairo's bridges, and in some cases have to intervene immediately to repair any damage caused by excessive pressure on the network.
"Emphasis in periodic inspections is placed on joints that link sections of the bridge together, metal barriers, and moisture insulation that protects the concrete," he said.
In order to cut costs, Egypt should stop the construction of new bridges for the time being and confine its efforts to performing maintenance in all provinces, Gad al-Haq said.
He added that vendor stalls must be cleared from bridges as they impede maintenance work.