Abu Dhabi is spending more on infrastructure development than any other capital in the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), said a senior municipality official.
Giant infrastructure projects are being undertaken in the city and its suburbs in line with Abu Dhabi Vision 2030. The municipality is currently engaged in executing infrastructure projects worth Dh19 billion and has spent more than Dh20bn on major roadworks in the past three years, Abdulla Al Shamsi, Acting Executive Director of the Municipal Infrastructure and Assets Sector, told Emirates Business.
"Abu Dhabi is seeing major growth in infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges," he said. "This year we are executing projects valued at Dh19bn. Plans for the infrastructure sector over the next three years include huge projects and a budget that is bigger than the budget of projects currently being executed.
"I firmly believe Abu Dhabi is the biggest spender on infrastructure among capital cities in the GCC, we work with massive financial support. This underlines that Abu Dhabi should enjoy the best infrastructure in the Arab region, which will help to attract foreign investment and prevent any problems that Abu Dhabi could otherwise face in future, whether involving roads, maintenance or facilities."
Al Shamsi said there was a particular focus on building new bridges in the capital. "We have many projects related to the construction and maintenance of bridges. For example, we have started to add a number of bridges on Abu Dhabi Island at a total cost of Dh75 million. This project is expected to end in September. Also, we have started maintenance work on bridge projects in the north of the mainland at a cost of Dh86m and this is expected to end in February."
A further Dh3m is being spent on maintenance work on car parks and pedestrian tunnels and this is due to be completed in August.
"There is the numbering of roads and maintenance of traffic and instruction signs at a cost of Dh15m, which are going to be fully completed within days. We have started the maintenance of pedestrian paths on the mainland at a cost of Dh30m.
"Emergency maintenance work and services in Abu Dhabi and its suburbs will cost Dh53m. There are roadworks and car parking projects on the mainland costing Dh46m, and roadworks and parking on Abu Dhabi Island costing Dh100m will be completed next year."
Al Shamsi said the municipality had completed a large number of major external and internal road projects.
"The cost of external roads constructed just in the past three years topped Dh20bn," he added. "The most important projects completed recently included one involving roads and parking at a number of areas outside the city that cost Dh110m. We also completed another project involving the construction of internal roads, parking and infrastructure services inside the city at a cost of Dh110m."
Abu Dhabi has been hit by traffic jams recently – but Al Shamsi said this would be only a temporary problem.
"This is related to the most important and largest road in Abu Dhabi, Al Salam Road – the city's artery. It was closed because of a huge project on this route that will cost Dh5bn. This project will raise traffic movement in Abu Dhabi to a new level. We have finished 60 per cent of the development work on Al Salam Road. Once this project is completed, any traffic jam problems in Abu Dhabi will end.
"The road's capacity will rise from the current 2,500 vehicles per hour to more than 6,000. People coming to Abu Dhabi will be able to reach the Corniche in only 10 minutes instead of the current 50 minutes. The road and its new tunnels will be free from traffic lights. Since we started the project more than a year-and-a-half ago we have called on UAE nationals and expatriates to bear some of the burden so that the traffic jam problem in Abu Dhabi can be finally solved."
He said there was continual co-operation between the project's consultant and the contractor to revise traffic diversions during the different phases of the project to provide alternative routes for traffic movement throughout the project's duration.
"The municipality's traffic lights control centre modified the design of interchanges in the area of the diversions, Al Nadi Al Seyahi, to give greater flexibility for traffic movement in all directions and modify traffic lights programmes in line with traffic movements in this area.
"We are committed to delivering the project at the end of the current year and it might be completed by October, not December. We agreed with the contractors that our contract with them is based on the Fidic [International Federation of Consulting Engineers] system, so that the municipality does not harm the contractor or the contractor does not exploit the municipality."
Al Shamsi said work on the first stage of the Lulu Island and Al Ras Al Akhdar developments – the largest infrastructure projects currently under way in the capital – would continue until the end of the year.
"The total cost is Dh14bn and the developments comprise three phases. The first phase includes the expansion of Corniche Road between interchanges 63 and 26, improvements to Bainona Road, construction of tunnel between interchanges four and six and roadworks at Zayed Road. The second phase, which will be built between 2010 and 2012, includes the construction of a bridge between Lulu Island and Port Zayed. The third phase, lasting from 2012 to 2015, includes the construction of a tunnel between Lulu Island and Abu Dhabi Island's 4th Road, a tunnel linking Lulu Island and Abu Dhabi Island's 2nd Road and another tunnel linking Lulu Island and Abu Dhabi Island's 26th Road."
Al Shamsi said the privatisation of services such as road cleaning and park management had been very successful.
"The municipality will continue the programme and expand it after studying the difficulties and problems. We have established strong partnerships with the private sector and no longer bear the burden of tens of thousands of employees who previously worked for the municipality.
"The municipality has taken on a supervisory and control role, not an executive one as it had before. In addition, this partnership enabled us to save money and effort and avoided problems that we had suffered from.
"We are confident services that were previously performed by the municipality and are currently carried out by private companies are good and are being evaluated on a regular basis. We started to apply the policy of 'payment according to performance' and set certain criteria for the companies.
"If they adhered to these criteria, we signed a contract with them. If they did not commit to them, we cancelled the contracts with them. This system was highly successful, especially with contracting companies that carry out infrastructure projects. In general, the privatisation process is positive, though this does not mean there are no negatives. But the negatives are far fewer than the positives."
When asked how the municipality would tackle traffic congestion, Al Shamsi said: "Abu Dhabi did not previously have traffic congestion, particularly in the morning. The reason for the current problem is that many infrastructure projects, including work on roads and bridges, is currently under way.
"There are works at Al Salam Road, we have finished the expansion of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Road and we have expanded Arabian Gulf Road. These three are the most important road projects in the city.
"But I think any road traffic jam problem will end with the completion of projects at Al Salam and Arabian Gulf roads, which is due to happen at the end of the current year, at the latest. Abu Dhabi has a traffic light control centre located near the municipality. The centre has a closed-circuit television system that monitors what is taking place on the capital's roads through 162 cameras at 81 traffic intersections.
"According to studies we have conducted, the traffic lights in the centre and spread all over the capital have contributed to a 50 per cent reduction in traffic accidents in Abu Dhabi. In addition, there is strong co-operation between the municipality, the Abu Dhabi Traffic Police and other relevant departments due to the increase in traffic movement as a result of new development projects being executed in the capital."
He said the operation of the centre depended on help from police. "The centre monitors traffic movements on main roads during peak hours and modifies traffic light programming to ensure normal traffic movement. In addition the centre works with the Abu Dhabi Police following traffic congestion caused by motorists who fail to obey regulations or a traffic accident," he added.
With Abu Dhabi witnessing fast growth, water and electricity demand is expected to rise seven to eight per cent a year over the next five years. The Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority plans to invite proposals to build a 1,600MW power plant worth about $2bn (Dh7.34bn) to meet the demand.
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