Country Listing

Lebanon Table of Contents



In 1987 Lebanon had some 8,000 kilometers of roads and a highway network, most of which was in various states of disrepair. There were three routes of overwhelming importance, each radiating from Beirut. To the north was the road to Tripoli, Lebanon's second largest city, a route that also passed through such major towns as Juniyah and Jubayl. To the east, crossing the Lebanon Mountains, was the highway to Damascus, passing through the key town of Shtawrah. And to the south was the road to Sidon and Tyre (see fig. 6). Lebanon possessed a second north-south road axis, running along the length of the Biqa Valley. Roads in the northern valley converged on the Beirut-Damascus highway at Shtawrah and linked the important market towns of Baalbek and Zahlah with the primary road network. The southern valley's local road network also centered on Shtawrah at its northern end.

Cross-mountain routes, which linked the northern Biqa Valley with Juniyah and Tripoli and the southern valley with Sidon, were of relatively little importance in times of peace. In the 1980s, however, ordinary travelers have used these routes to circumvent roadblocks on the major roads, and drug dealers have used them for transport (see Crop Production , this ch.). Private militias have also used them to secure lines of communication between the coast and outlying areas. Minor cross-border routes into Syria have also been important entry routes from time to time for Palestinian and sometimes Iranian fighters entering Lebanon. These roads have also served as exit points for produce funneled via Lebanon onto the Syrian black market.

After its establishment in 1961, the Executive Council for Major Projects (Conseil Exécutif des Grands Projets) drew up a plan for a 241-kilometer highway network. The plan was to transform the three main routes from Beirut into four-lane, divided highways through the construction of new roads or the expansion of existing ones. But because of bureaucratic delays, little was done before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1975, although some roads were upgraded. A drive to complete the project was undertaken in 1980; the US$1.6 billion program continued, well into the mid-1980s, albeit somewhat haphazardly in view of the uncertain security conditions.

By 1987 most of the sixty-five kilometers of the Lebanon section of the Beirut-Damascus highway, including a difficult stretch through the Lebanon Mountains, approximated international highway standards. The government hoped to be able to implement plans drawn up by consultants from the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) for a full highway link between Beirut and the Syrian border. Likewise, most of the northern coastal highway to Tripoli was complete, except for the final section from Tripoli to the Syrian border. Work on the southern coastal highway lagged, however. Some sections between Beirut and Sidon had been completed, but there was little progress on the stretch between Sidon and Tyre.

The existence of new highways did not necessarily mean they were available for use. For example, during much of the early 1980s stretches of the northern coastal highway were blocked off by local Christian militias who found it easier to regulate traffic on the old coast road.

Although the government traditionally allotted high priority to road building and maintenance, the rehabilitation of the country's network has been badly hampered by war. Some roads, however, have been repaired at the behest of Syrian military authorities. In the south, in the area in which United Nations (UN) troops were stationed, roads were built and renovated. And along the Israeli border, but within Lebanon itself, Israel constructed a series of earth roads in the late 1970s and early 1980s designed to facilitate troop deployments.

The collapse of the central government necessitated the development of ad hoc transportation systems. Successive attempts to revive Beirut's public bus system after the 1975-76 fighting failed as a new fleet of French-built buses were turned into barricades in subsequent conflicts, including the 1982 Israeli invasion. In some parts of the country, business enterprises ran buses or trucks to ferry their employees to work, but there was no coherent national transportation system. Shared taxis became the most common form of public transport. Taxis could be hired to carry travelers from one town to another, but taxi service might not be available if militia groups declared a blockade along a particular route. Such blockades also affected deliveries of key products, such as food supplies, fuel, and goods intended for import or export. Travel became prohibitively expensive for ordinary Lebanese when roads were closed. Keeping the roads open became the responsibility of a series of armed forces: the militias, the Lebanese government forces, the UN forces, and, repeatedly, the Syrian Army. From time to time, responsibility lay with Israeli, Palestinian, United States, and West European troops.

Data as of December 1987

Country Listing

Lebanon Table of Contents