Overview: Although the transportation and telecommunications sector is a relatively unimportant contributor to the gross domestic product (GDP), it absorbs a large share of the annual development budgets. Much of this expenditure is oil-sector-related in that it is designed to lessen oil transport costs and to facilitate access to oil and gas development sites.
Roads: Libya's road network has been considerably expanded since 1978. At that time, Libya had only about 8,800 kilometers of roads, of which perhaps one-half were paved. However, by 1985 Libya had between 23,000 and 25,600 kilometers of paved roads. Surfaced roads existed between the north and the southern oases of Al Kufrah, Marzuq, and Sabha. By 1999 Libya had an estimated total road network of 83,200 kilometers, of which 47,590 kilometers were paved. These roads have done much to end the isolation of remote settlements. In particular, the agricultural projects underway in the desert oases have benefited from the more efficient crop marketing made possible by these roads. The National General Company for Roads oversees all new construction and maintenance. The key road in Libya is the 1,822-kilometer national coastal highway. It runs from the border with Tunisia to the Egyptian border, and passes through Tripoli and Benghazi. About two-thirds of Libya’s roads have a bitumen surface or have at least been treated with bitumen.
The number of vehicles in Libya increased steadily in the 1970s and early 1980s. By 1985, 313,000 automobiles and trucks and about 70,000 buses were registered in the country. The ratio of automobile ownership to population was on a par with that of many West European countries. The state-owned General Corporation for Public Transport maintains the entire network of urban and inter-urban bus routes.
Railroads: Since 1965 no railroads have operated in Libya. In 2000 the newly created Railways Executive Board, employing about 750 staff, signed a US$477 million contract with the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation and began the first phase of a plan to build a national rail system in Libya. The contract was to build an initial 163-kilometer line with 16 stations from Ras Ajdir, the land frontier point between Tunisia and northwest Libya, to Tripoli. Site preparation and some construction were completed in 2001. Completion of the entire project was projected for 2004 at an estimated cost of US$10 billion but appears to be behind schedule.
Ports: Libya has many long-established ports, some of which serve as oil terminals, including Benghazi, Al Khums, Marsa al Burayqah, Marsa al Brega, Marsa al Hariqah, Misratah, Ras Lanuf, El Sider, Tobruk, Tripoli, and Zuetina. It was reported in 2004 that work was begun on the port in Tripoli to expand its capacity.
In the mid-1970s, Libya embarked on an ambitious program of ship acquisition to build up its merchant fleet. However, it failed to take into account world competition, and by 1977 as much as 70 percent of its total tonnage was idle—the largest such proportion in the world at that time. Libya sold a number of its tankers and, by 1985, owned 14 oil tankers and 18 cargo ships. By 1997, the merchant fleet consisted of 11 oil tankers, two gas tankers, and four product tankers. More recently, a German port study in 2001 found the Libyan fleet to have more faults than any other merchant fleet surveyed. In 2002 a Libyan cargo ship sank, with a loss of its crew of 25. Later that year, the Libyan government announced it would be spending US$10 billion to buy 32 new ships and it would spend US$600 million on port improvements.
Inland Waterways: Libya has no waterways that can be navigated by any vessels of appreciable size.
Civil Aviation and Airports: Libya currently has 132 usable airports, of which 57 have permanent surface runways. There are four international airports: Tripoli International Airport (at ben Gashir, 34 kilometers from Tripoli); Benina Airport (19 kilometers from Benghazi); Sabha Airport; and Misratah Airport. There are also 10 regional airports as well as smaller airfields such as those at Ghat, Ghadamis, Al Kufrah, Marsa al Burayqah, Tobruk, and elsewhere.
Because of United Nations (UN) sanctions against Libya, air travel was proscribed between 1992 and 1999, and the aviation infrastructure deteriorated. It was during this time that the serviceability of many Libyan aircraft declined. A US$800 million program to improve the airport infrastructure and air traffic control network was approved in mid-2001. Since the final and complete lifting of UN sanctions in September 2003, and the lifting by the United States of its travel ban in February 2004 and its trade embargo against Libya in April 2004, more than 20 foreign airlines have resumed flights into Libya.
Pipelines: In 2004 Libya had 225 kilometers of condensate pipelines, 3,611 kilometers of gas pipelines, and 7,252 kilometers of oil pipelines.
Telecommunications: In comparison to other North African countries, Libya’s telecommunications systems and Internet services are less developed and relatively expensive. According to some 2003 estimates, 750,000 telephone main lines and 100,000 mobile cellular phones were in use in Libya. July 2004 estimates reported that Libya’s fixed lines decreased to about 700,000, while mobile subscribers increased to about 150,000. These figures represent less than 13 percent and 3 percent of the population, respectively. The Al Madar Telephone Company, which is a monopoly, began establishing the cellular/mobile service in 1996 and is now planning to increase its mobile subscribers to 250,000. It was reported that a new mobile phone provider, Libyana, was to begin operating in September 2004, a move that presumably will lower the cost of mobile services. The state monopoly for fixed telephone lines, the General Post and Telecommunications Company, is planning on increasing its number of lines to 2 million by the year 2020.
In 1997, 730,000 televisions and 1.35 million radios were in use in Libya. In 1999, 12 television stations were broadcasting; by 2002, 16 AM, 3 FM, and 3 shortwave radio stations also were operating. In 2003 Libya had 67 Internet providers and more than 160,000 Internet users.