Afghanistan’s one main road, Highway 1, circles the country and is unsurprisingly known as the ‘The Ring Road’. It is a really crappy road by any modern standards. But because it is the only real road in Afghanistan that goes anywhere, it is has a lot of traffic all the time.
It is a crappy road for several reasons: The ruts in the pavement are over a foot deep in some sections, caused by the overloaded trucks and not helped by our ultra-heavy military vehicles. There are numerous holes and patched (not necessarily well) holes caused by pesky little roadside bombs. Many of the bridges are not usable for the same reason, so you need to bypass them by going down the embankment and crossing the river bed and back up the other side.
The physical limitations of the road, coupled with the heavy traffic result in some seriously clogged roadways. This traffic problem is further compounded by what seems to be a complete lack of traffic laws, common courtesy and common sense. The end result is traffic gridlock unlike anything I have ever experienced.
Looking at the pictures you can see that Highway 1 looks to be a simple 2-lane paved road with narrow shoulders. But obviously the Afghan’s see something else. As traffic begins to back up, they begin to create new lanes of traffic in attempt to get around the problem. Of course this doesn’t work, because now instead of 1 lane of traffic held up because of a problem, they soon end up with 4-6 lanes of traffic held up because of a problem. Yes, that is correct; they can turn a small 2-lane highway into a parking lot with vehicles 4-6 abreast. Two to three lanes of vehicles in each direction, all trying to funnel through a single point that will barely fit one vehicle.
But believe it or not, that isn’t the biggest problem. To really aggravate the situation, the drivers of these vehicles take advantage of this clogged parking lot of a highway to take a break. They will get out of their vehicles, spread a rug out and make tea, take a nap, prepare lunch or whatever suits their fancy.
The result is an absolute stagnant traffic flow with little chance of quick resolution. This was our reality on our latest trip to visit FOB Bullard in Shah Joy.
As we left Qalat the traffic did not seem too bad & we expected it to take about an hour to go the 65km from FOB Apache to FOB Bullard. However signs of impending problems quickly surfaced. We encountered our first mini-jam at the first bridge bypass, but it didn’t slow us down too much as it had not evolved into the full-on parking lot yet. However within minutes we came upon a big jam. Our speeds dropped to a crawl as we threaded our way through the jumble of trucks, buses, cars, vans, 3-wheelers, tractors and donkey carts.
The further we inched forward, the worse it got and soon we lost all ability to move forward. After not moving for several minutes a few of our Soldiers dismounted the trucks to move forward on foot and play traffic cop in an effort to clear a path. Eventually they were successful and we continued to slowly thread our way through the mess. This particular traffic jam was well over 5 miles long and it took us close to 2 hours to make our way through. A simple 65km drive took nearly 3 hours to complete.
We spent over 4 hours at FOB Bullard. As we were preparing to leave someone mentioned that our trip back to Apache should be better than the trip up because ‘the traffic has to be cleared by now’.
If only that had been true.
Again our trip began without a hitch and we were making good time. But our good fortune was short-lived as we soon came upon the same clogged section of road, with many of the same, easily recognizable vehicles, parked in the exact same spot they had been 5+ hours earlier!
Using the same tactic we had used that morning, a few Soldiers dismounted the trucks and began the slow process of clearing a path. It took a little bit longer to get through as the row upon row of vehicles had actually gotten longer. It began to feel like we would never find the end. Some of the gaps we squeezed through were only accomplished because the trucks and busses would fold in their mirrors to give us a few extra inches of needed clearance.
Finally, after 2 hours we came out of the other side and were able to complete our journey without further delay. Another 3 hours to go 65km…it makes for a very long day.
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Thanks for looking!
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