I remember a time when travel between Lahore and Rawalpindi (Islamabad was not on the map yet) took around five hours on the Grand Trunk Road. This time was reduced by thirty minutes with the widening of this highway into four and subsequently six lanes separated by a green divider. The construction of our first motorway– the M5, provided motorists with a twelve lane asphalt strip consisting of three south bound and three north bound lanes. Notwithstanding the fact that M5 was longer than the GT Road route, the former’s surface quality, combined with strict enforcement of traffic laws and a speed limit of one hundred and twenty kilometers per hour,made it possible to cover the ‘toll plaza to toll plaza’ distance from Islamabad to Lahore in a mere three hours. It was while driving on this road, soon after its inauguration that I remarked to a friend and fellow traveler that like all good things in the ‘Land of the Pure’, the M5 would suffer the consequences of apathy, corruption and lack of common sense. All this now appears to be happening.
A case in point is the E Tag. Use of the Express Lane is a facility that enables E Tag holders to bypass the bumper to bumper ‘stop and go’ traffic mess at Toll Plazas especially during the holiday rush. It is on such occasions that our national tendency of impatience and lack of discipline causes a mess of traffic on the approaches to the multiple toll barriers blocking even the express lane compromising the very purpose of having an E Tag on the wind shield. It is irately disconcerting to note that this happens regularly year after year, while two simple solutions to the problem ‘sit right under their noses’.
These solutions came my way from a media colleague, who is a regular victim of an E Tag made ineffective by the mess at the two toll collection facilities on the M5. The mess occurs as each vehicle stops to pay toll tax, causing a ballooning effect at the rear. The confusion is compounded, when impatient drivers break lines in a bid to reach the gates before others.
The first solution to this traffic nightmare is to make E Tag compulsory for all vehicles on M5. This mandatory practice will enable a smooth nonstop flow of traffic through the gates and also plug any revenue leakages that may be occurring because of manual handling of cash. One gate each on the South and North bound lanes should however be dedicated for recharging E Tags. I am more inclined towards the second solution, which involves the creation of an express lane separated by a concrete divider starting from at least 2 kilometers short of the toll plaza. This would filter traffic in a manner so that vehicles carrying E Tag stickers have a smooth run up to and across the barrier.
Regretfully, there appears to be a de-gradation in the performance of, what was the pride of our traffic law enforcement – the Motorway Police. I have on many occasions found speed freaks, particularly those driving passenger buses, being ignored by cops. There also appears to be a reduced police presence on the M5, which encourages over speeding and a tendency to ignore lane discipline. One only hopes that the observation is, but a passing phase.
The M5 is a high speed route, where even a slight anomaly in the surface can have tragic consequences. It is in this context that patchwork repairs on various sections of the road need to be reviewed as these are likely to cause accidents. Notwithstanding my criticism of how the motorway is being run, I think that the M5 along with others of its kind is a much needed facility that will continue to boost national growth. It is for this reason that this network needs to be managed with total commitment and vision.

The writer is a freelance columnist.