ABU DHABI // While the first Salam Street tunnel is scheduled to open tomorrow, residents are already dreading the planned closing of another major junction as part of the massive construction project to ease traffic congestion.
The municipality said the tunnel near Khalifa Park would almost double the traffic capacity of an 850-metre stretch of Salam Street. The tunnel was completed six months early, said Abdullah al Shamsi, the director of infrastructure. "This is the first entrance from the east side to Abu Dhabi," he said. "The previous road could carry 2,500 cars per hour. Now, it will reach 4,500 cars per hour." The tunnel, which is surrounded by a tile mural depicting red sand dunes and blue sky, could eventually accommodate 6,000 cars per hour in each direction.
"It will help a lot to relieve the pressure of traffic congestion," Mr al Shamsi said. "The teams worked day and night to expedite the construction process." However, on the same day as the tunnel opens, the junction at Al Falah and Salam streets will be partially closed. Drivers will not be able to reach the Tourist Club Area or Abu Dhabi Mall from Al Falah Street, and traffic moving towards the Corniche on Salam Street will not be able to turn left onto Al Falah.
Later this month, the junction will be closed completely. A spokesperson for the municipality said the move was necessary to continue construction on the project's main tunnel, which will stretch more than 3km from the Sea Palace to the port area. Commuters who have navigated heavy traffic and blocked roads since the Salam Street project began two years ago welcome the news of the tunnel's opening.
"Salam Street traffic is causing too many problems. Going there is a total waste of time," said Sunny John, 40, a taxi driver from India. Drivers were unhappy, however, to hear about the closure of the Salam and Al Falah streets junction. "I was there just now," said Saeed al Rumaithy, 33, an Emirati employed by the Government. "It's nerve-wracking and very tiring. "Once you go there you know that you're probably stuck in the traffic for the rest of the day. It ruins your whole day. I never make any appointments the day I'm going to that area because I know very well that I'll never get back on time."
Natalie Cloete, 30, a housewife from South Africa, said she stopped going to the Abu Dhabi Mall because the traffic has become so bad. Some drivers were more optimistic. "I only recently got my driving licence, so I haven't driven in the country yet, but I know from my husband what it's like to drive near that intersection," said Sheeba Michael, 30, a housewife from India. "Hopefully, by the time I start driving they'll be finished with the construction works there."
Fatima Zalt, 24, a housewife from Syria, said she looked forward to the day the road would be free of red and white barriers and industrial trucks. "Right now it is causing too much trouble, but I think the project they're working on will solve many problems," she said. The three-year, Dh5 billion (US$1.4bn) Salam Street project is expected to double the number of cars able to enter the city each hour. When completed, the renovated thoroughfare will include several tunnels and allow drivers to travel from the Sheikh Zayed Bridge to the port area without facing a stoplight.
It is expected to be completed by the end of this year. firstname.lastname@example.org