A NEW PATH

Kuwait 2018 | TRANSPORT | REVIEW

Kuwait's national development plan calls for increased investment in transport infrastructure to handle increased tourism and business flows.

Kuwait's transport sector is key to the country's economic goals. In early 2017, the government introduced the New Kuwait 2035 development plan, a blueprint for building a more diversified and stable economy. Infrastructure is one of the seven stated pillars of the New Kuwait plan, which calls for more than KWD7 billion in road, rail, and air transport projects through 2022. Expansion projects currently underway at Kuwait International Airport and along the nation's road network should add the capacity needed for the country to handle increased tourism and transportation flows, and more ambitious metro and port projects, while further from completion, have the potential to dramatically reshape how Kuwait moves.

AIR

The ongoing expansion of Kuwait International Airport is one of the most important transportation initiatives under the New Kuwait plan. Located 15km south of Kuwait City, Kuwait International has served as the hub of the nation's air travel system for nearly a century. Long overshadowed by other GCC airports, Kuwait's strong growth over the past two decades has brought steady increases in passenger volumes. 2016 saw more than 10.8 million passengers pass through the airport, up from just over 6 million passengers in 2006, and current projections call for 12 million passengers per year by 2020. New international routes have created new links with European and Southeast Asian markets, opening up new markets for tourism and investment. The airport also serves as the base for Kuwait and Jazeera airways; the former is the national carrier and the latter is a low-cost airline that commenced operations in 2009 and has since become one of the Middle East's most popular budget carriers.

To meet growing demand, Kuwait broke ground on construction of an expansion project in May 2017. The expansion, estimated at USD4.3 billion, includes a 708,000sqm terminal, a third runway and expansion of the airport's two existing runways, and additional facilities to handle increased passenger volumes. Once completed in 2022, the project will allow for capacity of 13 million passengers a year, with future phases expected to ultimately allow for more than 25 million passengers per year. This would allow Kuwait to become a central hub for air travel in the GCC. Construction has been moving well throughout 2017, with Turkish contracting firm Limak announcing that the project was more than 30% complete as of 2017.

ROAD

Road transportation is the most popular mode of travel among Kuwait's population, but government officials recognize that additional work is needed to build a better transport system. Of the more-than USD8.5 billion of highways and bridges are currently under construction, perhaps none is as important than the Sheikh Jaber Causeway. The 36km bridge, which stretches across Kuwait Bay, is one of the most ambitious projects in the GCC. The USD3 billion project involved the creation of two artificial islands in order to connect Al-Sabiya City to Madinat al-Hareer, cutting travel time between the two from 60 minutes to 15 and allowing for new development north of Kuwait City. On schedule to be completed by the end of 2018, the bridge will be one of the longest cross-sea structures in the world once opened.

RAIL

Rail has traditionally been an underutilized part of Kuwait's transportation mix, but a pair of ambitious projects have the potential to change that. In 2008, the Kuwaiti government approved the construction of the Kuwait Metro rail, a 160km line that would have 68 stations across the Kuwait City metro area. The project ran into delays over the next few years, but in 2016 the government announced that it would issue a tender for the construction using a public-private partnership model. The estimated cost of the project was most recently announced to be USD7 billion, and Kuwait's fiscal position had diminished in light of the recent fall in oil prices. Feasibility studies are underway and the government is optimistic that the tender will draw international attention. An additional rail project with the potential to transform the Arabian Peninsula looks further away: in late 2017, GCC members decided to postpone operations on the Golf Railway project until 2021. The proposed 2,117km route would connect six Gulf countries down the eastern edge of the peninsula from Kuwait through Oman, but the current fiscal environment and financial difficulties led the parties involved to shelve it for the time being.