Traffic jam [illustrative] 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Anyone who has ever driven through Abu Dhabi at rush hour has wished that, like Batman, his car could sprout wings and fly over the traffic jam. That still hasn’t happened, but motorists now have the next best thing – a two-mile long tunnel, one of the longest in the Middle East.
“This is very good for Abu Dhabi,” Safar al-Mazrouei, a spokesman for the Abu Dhabi municipality told The Media Line. “We are very happy that the project is finally finished.”
The project cost $844 million and took more than five years to complete. It takes motorists from the entrance to the city to the cornice or the port in about 10 minutes.
“Before this tunnel the trip could take up to an hour during rush hour,” Dr. Theodore Karasik, director for research and development at The Institute for Near East Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai told The Media Line. “This is going to make a tremendous difference.”
The tunnel has four lanes in each direction, and motorists can travel at 50 miles per hour. There is a video incident detection system that notifies a control room within 20 seconds if a car has stopped. An advanced system monitors changes in temperature in the tunnel.
If a fire increases the temperature suddenly, an alarm will sound. If the temperature continues to rise, an automatic system will spray mist until firefighters arrive. There are also nine generators in case of a power failure, and 99 fire hoses placed every 60 yards.
The tunnel is part of an extensive economic plan called Abu Dhabi 2030. “The government of Abu Dhabi published a long-term plan for the transformation of the Emirate’s economy, including a reduced reliance on the oil sector as a source of economic activity over time and a greater focus on knowledge-based industries in the future,” as described in the government’s website.
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the second largest city after Dubai. There are an estimated 3.8 million foreign workers in the UAE, most of them in the oil industry. As the population of residents and workers has increased, the existing transportation infrastructure had grown increasingly strained.
Since Abu Dhabi is the capital of the Emirates, and the seat of government and business, many residents from outside Abu Dhabi enter each day. There is no public transportation system, and gasoline is subsidized. All of that adds up to heavy traffic.
Officials hope the new tunnel will give the new tunnel will give the UAE an economic boost as well.
“The story is more than the tunnel itself,” Karasik said. “It’s about Abu Dhabi growing as a major economic hub on the Arabian peninsula. The government is taking a series of security measures to make it a safe investment environment.”
Abu Dhabi holds nine percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and almost five percent of the world’s natural gas. In 2010 oil production was 2.3 million barrels per day. The average GDP per capita is almost $50,000, which makes it ninth in the world.
The country is also trying to develop its tourism sector, with plans for an expanded airport and a proposed rail link between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
But for motorists, the most important thing is to avoid the crushing traffic. Majid Al Kthairy, the head of traffic services at the municipality, estimates that some 7,000 vehicles travel through the center of the city each day. Now many of them will go through the tunnel.