ABU DHABI // A Dh5 billion motorway running across Abu Dhabi island is nearing completion after more than three years of construction.
Roughly three-quarters of the 18km-long Salam Street is in use, and commuters from Dubai are already singing the praises of the new route into the city centre.
"The Sheikh Zayed Bridge has shaved 10 to 15 minutes off the commute to my office in the Al Nahyan camp area," says Abdullah el Rustom, a property consultant who lives in The Greens, Dubai.
Work began on Salam Street in October 2007, and the project was divided into four contracts, stretching from the Sheikh Zayed Bridge into the Tourist Club area.
The impact on most residents was minimal, until work began last year on the last and largest contract, blocking access to the Tourist Club area on Al Falah Street.
The roadworks for this phase run from Defence Road to the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank building in Meena, and include a 3.1km tunnel stretching from Al Falah Street to the Meena Port area, through the heart of one of the most densely packed parts of the capital.
The scheduled completion of the tunnel has repeatedly been put back. Originally scheduled to open in October this year, it is now expected to be ready by July 2011.
The works have had a severe impact on businesses in the affected area. For seven years, Abdul Kareem Mozeh has run his car window tinting business, X-Five, from a shop near the junction of Defence Road and Salam Street. Since construction started, he says, his customer base has been cut in half.
"When people ask where my location is and I say 'Salam', they say 'khalas' and don't come," he says. "Two years ago I had three shops and too many customers, now I have six shops and half the customers. Maybe if there's too much problem here, I'll go to Dubai."
Among the difficulties contractors face is rerouting utilities and upgrading the electricity system. A year ago, as ground was broken on the tunnel, Abdulla al Shamsi, the municipality's director of assets and infrastructure, said: "The utilities crossing Al Salam, that is the challenge because we need to keep all the utilities working while digging underneath."
While residents and business owners in the construction zone have reason to complain, property agents look on Salam Street as a boon to business. They say they hope the road improvements will help new developments in the capital compete with Dubai. "Places that were considered remote or too far away are more accessible," said William Bewsnap, the head of evaluation for Cluttons property agency.
He cautioned, however, that road improvements are not always a good thing. "In theory, travel times are reduced, but often if you increase capacity of roads, the number of cars increases to fill new capacity as people use the roads thinking it will be a faster route," he said.
There is also the danger of unintended consequences. Ewan Speirs is the technical director of Quadstone Paramics, and designs software that simulates how projects like Salam Street affect the flow of traffic and the movement of pedestrians.
"The Tourist Club reference to me is a classic example of an urban village," he said. An urban village is a self-sufficient, pedestrian-friendly community within a city, such as the East Village in New York, Soho in London or Montmartre in Paris.
"The risk with this project is that by segmenting the Tourist Club area with the new motorway, you create two new urban villages from the once larger area.
"Will one half become the affluent tourist hub and the other the traditional local quarter, and never the twain shall meet?"