We’ve all seen it: the video that goes by the title, ‘Oman 1990 Ruwi, Wadi Kabir’, which was uploaded by British expat Simon Cockerham. The one-minute-and-ten-second video gives viewers a clear idea of some of Oman’s most prominent landmarks, including the Star Cinema building, the Sheraton Oman hotel and some shots of driving past the Central Business District (CBD) area.
Cars like Mitsubishi Pajeros, Toyota Cressidas and Corollas galore; the video takes me back to older times.
Fast forward to today: As I roar past the traffic in my 300-horsepower sedan and en route to the Sheraton Oman hotel, I cannot help but notice the untouched road networks and the sign boards in the CBD area.
But then, why should it be revamped? The roads in CBD continue to ferry scores of cars and other vehicles daily without any hitch. This goes to show how well the roads were made and, above all, how well it was all planned out. In short, if you drove across the Ruwi and Wadi Kabir area in 1990, you wouldn’t require the assistance of Google Maps today.
What’s even more amazing is when you realise that this was one of the first roads in the country. The CBD (and Muttrah) was once the hub for all major activities in the country. Oman’s first airport was situated in the locale, and so was its first five-star hotel (and the tallest building in Oman).
Today, however, Oman’s roads are ranked among the top five in the world. The report published by Singaporean website MICE earlier this year stated that Omani highways were up in the top with countries such as France, United Arab Emirates and Singapore.
Despite all the laurels, the roads have actually changed over the last four decades, and for the better.
Oman currently has a staggering 62,240 highways in total, and the network is growing daily. Just last week, a 27km-long stretch of road on the Al Batinah expressway connecting Saham and Sohar was opened to the public.
Just to put things into perspective, a total of 1,426,350 vehicle (as of September 2017) are plying the roads of Oman every day.
“We have to applaud His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said for all these achievements,” says Gregory J, a long-term resident of Oman.
“I started driving around 30 years ago, and the changes I have seen since that period of time are staggering. Initially, all we had was the Sultan Qaboos highway. Today, we are given more than three options when we are travelling places.
“I remember having to spend more than one hour to get from Muttrah (where he stayed) to Seeb for a weekend getaway with my wife,” he adds, before going on to compliment the Sultan Qaboos highway, the Muscat Expressway and other roads that interlink parts of Oman.
“All of this aids to cut traffic and also makes driving easier. But there are more cars on the roads today,” the 58-year-old businessman asserts.
“What that means is that the Royal Oman Police (ROP) has a lot more work to do than ever before.
“But I think that they’re doing a great job and, if you look closely, one aspect has been reducing road accidents over the years,” he points out.
And he’s right. The number of road accidents stood at 2,738 from January to September this year compared with 3,480 in the same period last year, as per the statistics revealed by the National Centre for Statistical Information.
A part of this can be attributed to the untiring efforts put in by a team working on its dream to make the roads of Oman 100 per cent safe: The Oman Road Safety Organisation (ORSA).
“We have a lot to do. Such a change cannot be made overnight. Instead we must begin inculcating the thought of road safety into the minds of youngsters and the elder
drivers,” tells Ali al Barwani, the CEO of ORSA in a video interview with Y last week.
“Everyone is set in their ways. Today you may be confident of driving fast on the highways, or failing to buckle down your children using a child seat because you have never faced any incidents. But the reality is that one mistake is enough to change your course of life.”
Today, the ORSA takes educating the masses as its responsibility to create a nation wherein no one is at risk while on the road.
“Oman’s roads are one of the best in the world but there’s much for us to do as drivers,” Ali explains.
“What is the point of having all the facilities in the world if the people are not making use of them in the right way?” he asks.
“His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said has spoken out about road safety publicly, and it’s something that has been discussed widely. And in recent times, the ROP has been much stricter in its approach to road offences. It’s something that has definitely helped to bring a wind of change in the country.
“How amazing would it be to have the roads that we have here, and with the utmost levels of safety?” he asks.
“So, don’t forget: make use of the roads, but not at the expense of another human’s life. Every time you feel like doing something rash, think about your family; think about all those people who are dependent on you; and, above all, think about the family that must be reliant on the other person who is on the road alongside you.”