Expansion of the Two Holy Mosques in Full Swing With Comfort of Pilgrims Priority

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Badea Abu Al-Naja, Arab News

Published — Sunday 23 September 2007

Last Update 23 September 2007 3:00 am

SINCE becoming ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has paid special attention to the development of the two holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah.

In 2005, the king ordered a feasibility study to investigate the possibility of fitting air-conditioning in all of the floors of the Grand Mosque. The king also took steps to build a pedestrian bridge to link the upper floors of the Grand Mosque with the Ajyad area. The 100-meter long and 14-meter wide bridge would enable worshippers to enter and exit the first floor of the prayer complex without the need to cross the crowded ground floor and courtyards.

The king also ordered the expansion of the eastern courtyard of the Prophet’s Mosque to an area of 35,000 square meters with an additional capacity for 70,000 more worshippers. Other new projects in the Holy Mosque include the construction of 182 umbrellas at various locations in the courtyard to provide protection against the hot sun in the summer and heavy rain in the rainy seasons.

Each umbrella covers an area of 576 square meters. There are also new schemes in place for the drainage of floodwater and better lighting and acoustic systems in the courtyards. Once the expansion work is completed, the area will be able to accommodate 200,000 worshippers.

The three new tunnels with additional exits and entries to car parks are expected to considerably reduce traffic problems in the mosque zone.

Since Kingdom’s foundation, King Abdul Aziz strove to provide maximum safety and comfort to pilgrims. Continuing in the same path, King Abdullah launched the expansion of the Jamrat Bridge, which used to be narrow and unable to hold the large number of crowds that gather there to perform the Haj rites.

The expansion of the Jamrat Bridge is one of King Abdullah’s major accomplishments at the holy sites. The cost of the planned expansion works is estimated at SR4.2 billion.

When completed, the Jamrat will have a four-floor bridge with 11 entries and 12 exits to the four directions guaranteeing maximum safety to pilgrims.

The design of the expansion work was made at the Custodian of Two Holy Mosques Institute for Haj Research under the supervision of the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs. The old bridge was removed two years ago to pave the way for the phased construction of the new bridge.

The first phase was commissioned during the last Haj. The four stories of Jamrat will divide the crowding pilgrims to four sections before they enter the throwing area.

A special coldwater spraying system will reduce temperature to a comfortable level in the area.

Currently there are 10,000 workers and 3,000 machines working on the project. Last year two floors and two kilometers of the tunnels were completed besides some other related facilities.

The total capacity of the Jamrat, after the completion of the four floors of the bridge, is estimated to reach 5 million pilgrims at a single time. It will, undoubtedly, end the crowding and related problems at the Jamrat and their courtyards.

The two tunnels being constructed under the bridge are expected to offer a solution for the transportation bottleneck on the roads close to the Jamrat. The two tunnels will enable the movement of the service vehicles and pilgrims’ buses without being hampered by pedestrian pilgrims.

One tunnel begins at the King Abdul Aziz Overpass and the other one at the western side of the Jamrat. While the tunnels are meant for the exclusive use of vehicles, the courtyards would be free from motor vehicles to enable the free movement of pedestrians. One half of the outgoing pilgrims from the bridge would be diverted to the east and the other half to the west in order to ensure an evenly balanced exit.

The new Jamrat project requires the redesigning of the area including some change in the locations of several streets. This was to provide more space for the huge crowds moving toward the Jamrat and returning from there.

With the same purpose, several tents in the adjoining area will have to be shifted to other locations. The eastern part of the Jamrat area, between the King Khaled Bridge and the eastern courtyard, has also been redesigned.

Several utilities in the courtyard, such as the Thousand Toilets in the eastern courtyard, had to be shifted to other places in order to facilitate the expansion works.

Several pumping stations, garbage disposal machines and barber cubicles, eateries and telephone cabins were also removed from the area for the expansion.

New waiting sheds on the Souk Arab Street, Al-Jouhara Street and King Faisal Street have also been constructed.

Aimed at the fast movement of pilgrims, the King Khaled Bridge has been extended to the Moaisem Road in the north and to Muzdalifa Road in the south.

The two slaughterhouses -- Moaisem-2 and Wadi Muhassar-3 -- have been shifted to more convenient places.

The Ministry of Municipal and Rural affairs has also signed two agreements with the Pension Fund and the General Organization for Social Insurance for the construction of six huge buildings at the foot of Mina’s hills to accommodate the rapidly growing number of pilgrims.

The government has also allocated enough funds for a comprehensive floodwater drainage system in Mina. A similar drainage system in Arafat will be completed by next year.

The present bridge was built in 1975 as part of initial efforts to expand the Jamrat with a capacity for 80,000 pilgrims per hour, which could reach 100,000 pilgrims at peak hours. This would mean six or seven pilgrims squeezing in a square meter area posing a threat to the safety of the pilgrims.

Once the present expansion works are completed, there will be an average space for three pilgrims or even less per square meter average. After the completion of the project, it would accommodate 500,000 pilgrims an hour reducing the crowd to a tolerable level guaranteeing total safety.

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