Originally just a track of hard sand, Al Salam Street, also known as 8th Street, has evolved along with the city of Abu Dhabi. Over the past two years, Salam Street has been transformed again as Abu Dhabi Municipality oversees a project to extend the road from Mina Zayed and the Corniche to the Sheikh Zayed Bridge with a 3.2km tunnel, eventually enabling motorists to cross the city while avoiding up to six sets of traffic lights.
Engineer Abdullah al Shamsi, acting executive director of municipal infrastructure and assets for Abu Dhabi Municipality, says this four-phase project will provide "a link to serve society; our target is to serve the people".
By year's end, the project should be 80 per cent complete with "just the finishing touches" to be added to the first three phases, which comprise the road from the newly opened Sheikh Zayed Bridge to Al Saada Street, the Al Saada Street bridge and the road from Al Saada Street to Hazza Bin Zayed Street (also known as Defence Road, or 11th Street).
"Some roads are already open, we have some link roads to finish and then just finishing touches such as the tiles, sidewalks and clearance of all the sites," says al Shamsi. He adds that, in 2011, an extensive landscaping project will take place along the length of the roadworks "to enhance the image of the city".
The final phase, the tunnel, is scheduled to be fully operational by the summer.
In the meantime, al Shamsi says, the priority is for service roads to be opened, ideally by the end of the year, to improve traffic flow.
This will be welcome news for many businesses in downtown Abu Dhabi that have been affected by road closings along different parts of the street since October 2008. Small businesses have claimed they have suffered as a result with limited or no parking, no passing trade and no compensation from the municipality.
In January 2009, The National visited five businesses in one of the first areas to be affected by road closings. Two of these businesses, a car rental company that did not want to be named and Al Saada Pharmacy, have now closed. Someone has written "Shop for sale" in the dust on the pharmacy door.
On our last visit, the road in front of these shops had been dug up, but the buildings were visible from across the street. Now, white hoardings have been placed in front of these shops so they are not even visible from the other side of the road anymore. Sadly, the hoardings are covered in fairly witless graffiti - just people's names or sprayed drawings of rude gestures.
But the three businesses we visited this time - Mr Balloons party supplies shop, California Sports Fitness Nutrition Centre and Al Ameer Corner Meat Trade Company - are valiantly soldiering on and doing what they can to stay in operation while the roadworks are being completed.
Staff members at Mr Balloons have taken a proactive approach to drawing in more business and, three months ago, launched a website, www.misterballoons.com. The store takes orders by e-mail, in person and by phone. They have also retained a lot of old business because they do deliveries. "At least our rent has stayed the same," says Josh Ferry, manager of Mr Balloons. "And my contacts know my work."
During our visit, the phone rang a few times and Ferry's catchphrase was "OK, no problem."
"We don't just provide balloons - anything for a party we can supply, streamers, decorations, clowns, face painting. If people want it, we will supply it," Ferry says.
"But once this work is finished, business will be much better."
California Sports Fitness Nutrition Centre reports business is down and this is attributed to the lack of passing trade. "We have no new customers, we rely on our old customers," says Mohammed Thaiseer, who has been working at the store for almost a year. A five per cent rent increase has added to the financial strain.
"Hopefully, it will be better when the work is finished, but we don't know when it will be finished; I hope it's soon."
Al Ameer Corner Meat Trade Company has experienced an estimated 50 per cent downturn, according to Hussan al Bayed, who has run the business in the neighbourhood for 38 years as well as a PVC pipe business in the West Bank.
"Before, it was a very nice business, but now it is very difficult," he says.
However, he says that the store did a roaring trade during Eid and he now has three motorcycles for staff to deliver meat to customers so they don't have to fight for a parking space.
"It will be very good when the road works are finished, more parking for customers," says al Bayed who already rents two parking spaces for his business. He is optimistic about the future since the roadworks near his business are soon to be completed and nearby service roads will be operational again.
The latest roadworks are part of the evolution of Salam Street, a process that has been taking place since the 1970s when the street was first constructed.
Peter Hellyer, a long-time Abu Dhabi resident and columnist for The National, reminisces about the street's early days: "There used to be an open-air cinema near the sea end [of Salam Street] before the Sheraton opened in 1979. For the 100 days countdown to the opening, the hotel had two camels outside named Abu and Dhabi.
"I used to live opposite the Sheraton," says Hellyer. "Best memory? Parking was so easy; they had roundabouts then too, not traffic lights."
Payam Rowhani, a managing partner of Gulf Colour Film Photography, nestled on Salam Street near the roadworks that intersect with Hamdan Street, is another long-time resident and business owner, with many memories of the changing face of Salam Street. Rowhani, an Iranian, was born in the UAE, his parents have lived here for 55 years and he has been a partner in his photography business for 31 years, starting on Hamdan Street with Salam Street in view.
Twelve years ago, the business moved to a shop that faced Salam Street. Like the other businesses The National visited, his shop is largely hidden from view with graffiti-ridden hoardings and a dug-up road.
"When we first had the shop here, there was no Salam Street," Rowhani recalls. "There were no traffic lights, no traffic, Hamdan Street had no footpaths and the road was just compacted sand and rocks, no asphalt."
"There was nothing much between here and the Tourist Club."
In the past 31 years, Rowhani has witnessed the street's evolution: "The biggest change since then has been the skyscrapers. And the traffic. And now the lack of parking," he says. "Back when we started, business started slowly but it was OK as there wasn't much competition ."
Like other business owners on Salam Street, Rowhani has suffered financially and says his business is in the red for the first time and there has been no compensation offered by the muncipality.
"People saw in newspapers that we got compensation so they thought we'd be OK, but we didn't get any compensation," he says.
Rowhani's wife ran a beauty salon next door but she is now running her business from Airport Road, where he says business is good. Rowhani relies heavily on regular customers and offers services where he or a staff member will visit the client rather than the client coming to them and struggling to find a parking space.
"Etisalat order the frames from me for the pictures of the sheikhs," he says. "Now, I go to them with the samples of the frames, they choose and then we will deliver the new pictures to them."
But there is also a strong sense of optimism for the future.
"My wife has kept the lease open on our shop next door so she may end up operating two businesses," says Rowhani.
"It will be great when this opens up again and with Mawaqif [Abu Dhabi's paid parking system for the central business district], it will be even better. Mawaqif is good for business - it means more cars come and go, there will be more parking for my customers and it won't be like the old days when people used to leave their cars for sale in front of my shop."