The signal-free, 8-Lane Islamabad Expressway is the most sought-after project for the daily commuters, residents and real estate customers of the twin cities. However, it seems that the wait for the completion of this project may not end in the near future.
The federal government allocated just Rs450 million for the remaining segment of the expressway (Korang to Rawat) against a hefty demand of Rs10 billion by the Capital Development Authority (CDA). Now, is it possible that the expressway is widened to the expectations of us all within the tiny budget? Unfortunately not!
The CDA’s Chairman Amir Ali Ahmed has deferred the expansion and is working instead on speedily initiating projects like Korang Bridge and underpass near PWD stop. There is no doubt that both the projects will bring phenomenal relief to the commuters, as they’re the main choking points, but what the community needs is expansion; because only then the problem of heavy vehicles can be brought a logical solution.
However, amid all this, if the expressway is widened by any chance (even in the next phase, as hinted by the CDA Chairman), how good or bad it will be for the real estate market, needs to be probed.
In this article, an effort has been made to account for the changes in the real estate prices of the housing colonies and commercial projects along the expressway, if Islamabad Expressway is really made into eight lanes. It is to be noted that all predictions have been made by area estate agents, investors and industry’s specialists.
Approved development plan for Islamabad Expressway
Islamabad Expressway is a 28 kilometers long arterial road that connects Islamabad with Rawalpindi and National Highway-5 (N-5). It starts from Zero Point Interchange and connects with National Highway at T-Chowk. With over eight interchanges and more than 40 exits, the expressway provides interconnectivity to hundreds of housing colonies and villages of the entire capital in general, and Zones 4 and 5 in particular. It is the fastest logistic means to commute between the twin cities, with a vital role to play in the mushroom growth of housing colonies and tremendous population influx into Islamabad. Therefore, any development on or around the Islamabad Expressway has a significant social and economic impact on the twin cities.
The expressway extension project will be accomplished in two phases – from Zero Point to Koral Interchange; and from there to T-Chowk on GT Road. The first phase has already been completed and made signal free, including Khanna Interchange that long remained unfinished. Progress on the second phase – Korang Bridge to Rawat GT Road – has yet to be made as the federal government could not provide CDA the promised funds. Even for the completion of two mentioned projects (Korang Bridge and PWD Underpass), CDA will add Rs425 million from its own pocket.
CDA, on the other hand, as reported widely on mainstream media, has further sought the help of developers of the housing societies in completing the second phase. It is to be kept in mind that currently, Islamabad Expressway from Gulberg Greens to T-Chowk is severely constricted by heavy traffic vehicles, thinness of the road, and a number of U-turns. According to PC-1 of the approved plan, the signals and U-Turns will be replaced with interchanges, underpasses and overhead bridges. Additionally, a service road will be constructed along the entire Islamabad Expressway on the pattern of Faisal Avenue, Islamabad.
Infrastructure along Expressway
The expressway houses more than 100 housing societies and over 20 multipurpose shopping malls of islamabad on either side, including Defence Housing Authority, Bahria Town, Soan Gardens, Naval Anchorage, PWD, Emaar Canyon Views, Jinnah Gardens, Gulberg Islamabad etc. Although, the signal-free corridor from Zero Interchange to Koral Chowk has already comforted millions of commuters and has drastically improved road efficiency, the heavy traffic vehicles should probably be the next thing to get rid of. To get convenient access to the Expressway, CDA has proposed the housing societies to construct interchanges on their own expense. It would certainly reduce the commuting time of the residents of these societies by up to 40%.
Impact of signal-free Islamabad Expressway on real estate prices
Way before the completion of the expressway, prices of both commercial and residential real estate projects have shown some growth. The price hike along the signal-free corridor is different on different locations and based on multiple factors, which include proximity to mega residential and commercial projects and Islamabad Expressway, and the availability of link roads and other basic amenities. If the sentiments of investors do not die with the laissez faire attitude of the government towards completion of this project, it is expected that tremendous activity could be seen.
For example, the belt between Gulberg Islamabad and T-Chowk (15 kilometers long) – generally termed as Golden Patch – can showcase incredible price increase in all types of real estate properties. The belt has 13 major housing colonies, including DHA, Bahria Town, Gulberg, Naval Anchorage, PWD, Soan Gardens and others, which take a major chunk of real estate investment made along the entire expressway. Due to relatively secure and profitable investment opportunities in these projects, an estimated increase of 70-100%, or in some cases even 200%, is expected.
Prices for residential projects in Gulberg Greens and DHA Phase-5 could increase by 50-70%, while for commercial projects the prices are reported to be in the range of 200% to 300%. Real estate agents believe that the potential for further growth in the prices will depend on how soon and effectively the project is being delivered. It is argued that the announcement for a similar project has been made time again since 2015; therefore, a drastic increase in prices may not take place.
For instance, while talking to a number of housing societies, it was revealed that most of the developers do not yet intend to increase the prices unless PSDP fund for the project is actually released. It is perhaps in view of the investors’ sentiment which may not be ready to immediately respond to the news.
Nevertheless, most of the major housing societies on the expressway saw an encouraging activity immediately after announcement of the expressway extension. For example, Soan Gardens sold a good number of units on their hiked price, which is believed to be as much as 15-20%. A similar trend took place in PWD housing colony, where both rentals and property purchases have relatively increased. It is, however, to be kept in mind that the upward trend must not only be attributed to the news of expressway proposed expansion only. Over-densification of sectoral Islamabad, apparently expensive rentals in Bahria Town, DHA etc., and improving security conditions have altogether swung people’s choices.
However, let’s not let these reasons steal the thunder from expressway extension. Credible sources from the housing society have revealed that to cash on the breaking news of expressway extension, PWD prices of residential properties have gone up by 30-40%. And believably, in the presence of relatively more popular housing projects like Gulberg Greens, DHA, Bahria Town etc., price hike and retention of customers in PWD is really something worth noticing.
Another project that could receive quite an encouraging response is Canyon Views by Emaar. While talking to relevant sources from the project, it was learnt that inquiry from serious buyers and investors has considerably increased; though price increase may take a little while. There is a little drift in the prices though, and property agents believe it to be a natural increase in the property prices that cannot be attributed to the expressway. They, however, are of the view that the impact of Islamabad Expressway will bring an increase of 30-40% in the prices very soon, which would drive the market hotter for general buyers and sellers. Major investors, on the other hand, are considering completion of link roads as well, before making any major investment.
Real estate agents opine that since Canyon Views is located on the cusp of N5 and Islamabad Expressway i.e. T-Chowk, it always receives the first brunt of heavy traffic vehicles that enter Islamabad Expressway. Keeping it in view, if the Ring Road project is being delivered timely, it can offload not only traffic density from this spot but could also improve economic worth of Canyon Views. Therefore, it is very safe to presume that the future belongs to Canyon Views.
Expectations of Real Estate Agents and Developers
There is nothing new in their concerns. Real estate agents hope for speedy and actual completion of the project. They are confident that any type of population growth in Islamabad will have to be accommodated along Islamabad Expressway; therefore, this project has become a lifeline for the urban future of the capital city. Additionally, they are concerned that traffic density, even if heavy traffic is taken off the expressway, is likely to increase dramatically; therefore, a mass transit system should be a part of revised master plan too.
Developers, in addition to the given points, press for drafting and implementing CDA bylaws in Zones 4 and 5. They argue that since the expressway is to change the entire infrastructural outlook of the region, there must be relevant bylaws in place to deliver upon much needed projects. For instance, the government has yet to decide upon the future of high rises in this area, which has undoubtedly become a Hobson’s choice. Horizontal expansion cannot catch up with the pace by which the population and migration here is increasing. Hence, the sooner the bylaws come into force, the sooner will attention be shifted to high rises in these areas.
At the same time, NOCs from relevant authorities need to be made automated and convenient. We cannot afford to constrain our real estate developers by making them obtain more than a dozen NOCs from different departments. These need to be reduced, automated and be made efficient.
Nevertheless, nothing happens overnight. To capitalise on the potential of Islamabad Expressway, we need a multi-pronged strategy. If on one side, approved plan for the expressway is brought into life, on the hand, there must be a robust mechanism working on drafting and implementing bylaws. And perhaps at the same time, the government needs to bring real estate agents and developers to a table to negotiate the urban future of Islamabad. We are sure that this project could develop a new real estate market in the region that would benefit both the government, developers, real estate agents and the end-users.