ABU DHABI // The 1.4km Sheikh Khalifa Bridge opened yesterday morning, clearing the way for drivers to bypass all of Abu Dhabi island from the E10 motorway. Officials hope the 10-lane span will help ease congestion in the city's often gridlocked roads. It is the first bridge to connect Abu Dhabi Island with Saadiyat and Yas islands.
Ashraf Abbas, 28, a telecoms engineer who lives on the Corniche and drives to Media City in Dubai each day for work, said he was looking forward to trying the new route. "Travel between Abu Dhabi and Dubai has got much busier since the start of the credit crunch," he said, as many people were opting for less-expensive housing in Dubai. "Getting out of the city can be one of the slowest parts of the journey, so if I can avoid all those traffic lights then that will be great."
The new 27km route allows drivers a high-speed conduit between Port Zayed, near the Corniche, and the motorway in the Shahama district. It also passes through some of the highest-profile development projects in the country, including the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island, which is designed to be the cultural centre of the capital. Yas Island, just beyond Saadiyat, will be the venue for the Formula One Grand Prix on November 1; several theme parks, golf courses, hotels and shops are planned to spring up there as well.
The bridge and motorway were opened at a ceremony attended by dignitaries that included Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The chairman of the Tourism Development and Investment Company, Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon, spoke of his delight at the completion of the 29-month project just before a mosaic of Sheikh Khalifa was unveiled.
"The Sheikh Khalifa Bridge highlights a major achievement in the progress of Abu Dhabi, as Saadiyat Island is set to become one of the world's leading destinations," Sheikh Sultan said. "We anticipate large numbers of visitors with the upcoming opening of distinctive museums and other highly prominent tourism attractions on Saadiyat, and we are certain that the bridge and expressway will be pivotal to its success."
The bridge is another of the elements of the Government's ambitious 2030 transport plan to ease travel around the city. It is one of 32 projected crossings planned between the capital and the almost 6,000 hectares being developed on the islands. There will be 13 bridges alone to provide access to Sowwah Island, where the new Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange headquarters will be based, along with the central business district.
Drivers, meanwhile, hoped it would simply make traffic less frustrating on the island. Wyndel Diole, 39, a taxi driver from Cebu in the Philippines, said he welcomed the new bridge. "We need something to help the traffic flow," Mr Diole said. "The last few weeks since the schools opened again have been very busy. The motorway will be good because it will be so much easier to get out of the city but also because more people will use that road and so the city centre should be quieter, too.
"It normally takes me about one hour and 30 minutes to take a passenger from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. With the new road I hope it should take me about 20 minutes less." "At the moment I think the traffic around the city is getting much worse," said his colleague Chamberlain Geologo, 41, of Manila, who has worked in Abu Dhabi for more than a year. "Anything that makes the cars move a bit quicker, I think is a good idea."
Commuters saw utility in the new road as well. "This is definitely good news," said Hisham Shaarani, 22, of Cairo, who has lived in the UAE for 16 years. "If it means I can avoid driving through the city twice a day at rush hour, I am happy. I work on Falah Street so it is not that close to the Corniche, but if I take this new road I can drive up to Falah Street against the flow of traffic, so it should be quiet. It normally takes me about 15 minutes to get out of Dubai and 15 minutes into Abu Dhabi, with 45 minutes on the highway.
"Hopefully, this will take at least 15 minutes off my journey." Dominique Richard, the assistant general manager of the Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi, in the city's Tourist Club Area, said he hoped the new road would ease congestion outside the hotel. "We are very happy about the bridge being opened," he said. "We have a lot of trucks and traffic in front of the hotel and we welcome anything that might help reduce that."