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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Faced with the longest closure since the bridge opened in 1986, Bahraini authorities have used the coronavirus travel shutdown to roll out major upgrades to the King Fahd Causeway.
When borders between the GCC states of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia reopen, the thousands who commute across the causeway daily and millions who cross it every year will be sped through new customs gates and e-Payment lanes that authorities say will boost traffic capacity by 45 per cent.
"The precautionary closure of the bridge to private vehicles has acted as a catalyst for long-planned upgrade work, while commercial drivers are still able to pass through each day enabling critical continuity for the logistics sector," Abdul Hakim Al Shammari, Chairman of Commercial Market Committee and Board Member of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), said.
Thousands use the 25-kilometre-long bridge linking Bahrain's Al Jasra to Saudi Arabia's Al Khobar every year. Up to 100,000 people usually make the crossing during Eid holidays. However, with borders closed since March 7, there has been no passenger traffic in nearly three months. Lorries and cargo trucks still use the bridge, but extra checks have been brought in.
Usually, work on the bridge has to happen at quiet times of the day around traffic, making the process slow. But planned improvements moved into the fast lane with the bridge empty.
Coronavirus across the Middle East
"We look forward to the upcoming re-opening of the causeway with this new infrastructure in place, which will substantially enhance capacity and speed up journeys for the tens of thousands of passengers who cross between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia each day," Mr Al Shammari said.
There is still no word on when the borders will reopen, but both countries have taken steps to ease travel and movement restrictions in recent weeks and domestic flights restarted at the end of May.
Whenever the border restrictions lift, Mr Al Shammari says Bahrain will be waiting.
"We stand ready to welcome visitors from Saudi Arabia to the Kingdom as soon as the causeway reopens," he said.
The Bahrain Causeway Authority that manages the bridge denied this week online reports that it was planning to reopen from June 10.
"The Authority denies the truthfulness of reports attributed to it that the King Fahd Causeway will reopen for some cases, starting June 10," it said on Twitter.
The causeway is a vital route for the small island kingdom. Of the 11.1 million tourists who entered Bahrain last year, 9.7 million – 88 per cent – travelled across the bridge.
"The King Fahd Causeway acts as an essential link between Bahrain and the wider $1.5 trillion Gulf economy for millions of passengers and commercial trucks each year," Al Shammari added.
Updated: June 18, 2020 07:36 PM
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