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Saudi Arabia is building a massive $22 billion metro to cut oil use

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Imagine if all 6 million people in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area drove everywhere. Without the metro and bus systems there would be massive gridlock (way more than there already is). That's Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, where only 2 percent of the population uses public transportation.

But that's all about to change. The city is building a massive $22.5 billion metro system -- the first in the city -- consisting of six lines that stretch a total of 110 miles (about the size of D.C.'s metro). One of the reasons? A seemingly surprising one for the world's largest oil exporter, Reuters reports:

In the longer term, the world’s top oil exporter is trying to diversify its economy away from oil, to reduce its vulnerability to the next big drop in global energy prices.

The metro systems could aid that drive by changing the way Saudi cities operate, helping them develop easily accessible commercial and light industrial districts which house companies outside the oil sector, while stimulating real estate projects and other investment along the rail lines.

The talk of moving away from oil isn't all that new for Saudi Arabia. One member of the Saudi Arabian royal family even went as far as to say he would like to see the entire country run on 100 percent renewable energy, at some point.

Of course, there's also the economic benefit. Saudi officials estimate that every riyal spent on the project will indirectly generate three times that amount.

Expect the new metro system to be up and running by 2019. Similar projects are planned for several other major Saudi cities including Mecca and Jeddah.

Read more: Reuters

Photo: Bechtel

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— By on July 31, 2013, 12:19 PM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure