On an area of land 10 kilometres from the Gulf, a 700-metre test trench is being dug using some of the biggest machinery in the world. From these relatively humble beginnings will grow the $11 billion (Dh40.3bn), 75km Arabian Canal.
This trial excavation, currently under way and being conducted by the Samsung Corporation, is equivalent to a quarter of one per cent of the final mega-project. In five years, the Arabian Canal will snake east from Dubai Waterfront, run around Maktoum International Airport, before heading back to the coast near Dubai Marina.
Limitless, the master development arm of Dubai World, which is managing the operation, said it is the biggest and most complex civil engineering project ever undertaken in the region.
Ian Raine, Development Manager for the Arabian Canal, said the project was something that had never been seen before in the region. “We are digging deeper than anything dug before in the Middle East,” he said.
“Traditionally, canals are generally built for functional reasons but this will create a new destination in Dubai. It’s part of the vision of Dubai’s leaders to create more waterways. One very important element of this development is public access.”
Limitless is managing the design and construction of the waterway, and is taking care of the 20,000-hectare canalside city development, stretching for 33km along the inland section of new canal.
Work to develop this land will begin this year and in around 15 years this new city will have a population of two million people. “It will be developed as a new city with homes, offices, retail, entertainment facilities and extensive public parks and open spaces,” said Raine.
The company says its specific 20,000-hectare inland Arabian Canal development, like all its other projects, will utilise approximately one quarter to one fifth of the land as green spaces.
As well as Limitless’s canal city, there will be other developments that flank the Arabian Canal including, Waterfront City, Industrial City, Dubai Investment Park, Golf Estates and Techno Park. The shear scale of the canal means it will have 13 major highway crossings, some with iconic designs, and many smaller crossings throughout the various developments.
The canal will run at sea level all the way through and with estimated ground elevations of up to 60 and 70 metres above sea level, will see huge inclines.
“We will be creating new valleys and hillside residences and create a more interesting typography,” added Raine.
The canal will be 6m deep with the width ranging from 75 to 150m. Samsung will have to dig up to 70 metres before it reaches the level required. A total of one million cubic metres of earth will be excavated each day once the main project gets under way.
“The reason for such depth is so large cruisers can navigate the canal as well as luxury yachts and the localised transport system. We are currently talking to the Roads and Transport Authority about a rail system and we will also have an extensive transit waterway.” The Arabian Canal will have two sets of locks, one at either side of the canal, which will be different from traditional locks as they will act as tidal control gates, rather than raising or lowering the water levels. “It is essential for the water flow to keep its quality,” said Raine.
The final operation of the canals development and its most crucial test will be the introduction of the water. “We have to create a waterway, and there will come a time when we open the gates to flood the channel. Before that, there will effectively be a dam holding the water on both sides,” said Raine.
Robert Hudson, regional director for Mouchel, a UK-based engineering consultancy group that is working on projects in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, said the Arabian Canal was a remarkable feat of engineering.
“Not just for Dubai but anywhere in the world,” he said. “It is a huge undertaking. One of the main challenges will be to do with the ground conditions and depend on what they find when they dig. It’s going to have huge cliffs. There are not many 70m cuttings in this sort of material. Sand will have to be removed and then sandstone and limestone.
“This will have to be engineered satisfactorily. When you dig a big whole like that you have to make it stable. There are modest examples of this in other parts of the world and it’s not unachievable but the scale of it is unique, so it’s one up for Dubai. Like any big project it’s not insurmountable but it is pushing the frontiers of size and scale.”
At present Limitless says 20 consultants and three contractors are on board and when the project peaks there will be several thousand workers.
Limitless has more than $100bn-worth of developments under way in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, India and Malaysia, where last week it announced its second project – a 1,115 hectare mixed-use project that will be the world’s first fully integrated halal centre.
The Arabian Canal is Limitless’s largest project to date.
The canal has been in the concept stage for a number of years with Nakheel Design Group and in June 2007 Limitless was assigned to complete the project.
The canal’s eastern stretch will meet with Dubailand. Once both are complete, the two projects will more than quadruple the area of Dubai city. Limitless says the ultimate aim of the canal is to create a navigable stretch of waterway that can be used by residents and tourists and that will create thousands of waterfront homes.
The Arabian Canal will be more than twice the size of Dubai Creek, including its current 12km extension.
Dubai’s Arabian Canal breaks new ground