ABU DHABI // It cost a billion dirhams, is said to be the most complex bridge ever built, and is expected to shave 15 minutes off commutes between the mainland and the city.
The 842-metre-long Sheikh Zayed Bridge will be ready for traffic within days, according to the municipality and engineering sources. But one engineer said the municipality might wait so the opening could coincide with the UAE's December 2 birthday. An official opening date has not been confirmed.
"It is scheduled for October 20," said the engineer with the Greek construction firm Archirodon. "It can be open to traffic then. The thing is, they're maybe willing to wait. They say they may want to open it in December, which would be for the National Day."
The builder, who did not want his name published, added: "The actual project, from my point of view, is that it will be ready for October. But we'll follow the client's instructions."
Engineers, workers and site officers building the Dh900 million link over the Maqta Canal said contractors had been instructed to work towards an October 20 deadline, with minor work left such as tile fittings for the footways. The original cost was to be just under Dh 650m.
The bridge reaches a height of 63 metres. Approximately 52,000 tonnes of structural and reinforced steel was used, along with 200,000 cubic metres of concrete.
The bridge was designed by Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid to be a landmark for the UAE capital. It has curved steel arches that are meant to evoke undulating sand dunes.
Construction of the bridge began in 2003, with an opening date set for 2006. The bridge will be the third connector to Abu Dhabi Island and the new main gateway over the Maqta channel. About 1,600 vehicles will be able to cross the bridge every hour.
But what began as an architect's dream was described by the structural engineer Mark Jones as "an engineer's nightmare" on the TV programme Mega Builders.
Devising engineering solutions for its radical design proved difficult, particularly because it is between the Arabian Gulf and the desert. The bridge has an expected lifetime of 100 years.
In an e-mailed statement, the municipality said: "The amount of salt contained in the water, coupled with the high humidity, is enough to challenge the endurance, particularly noting that the high temperature level accelerates chemical reactions."
A special dehumidification system was installed to blow air away from the interior arches.
The Belgian company Be Six was brought in this year to manage the last leg of the project, although manpower was still supplied by Archirodon workers. Construction crews this week finished asphalting and placing tiles on top of the bridge deck for the footways. Street lighting was also recently added.
Noting the progress of the bridge, Tim Risbridger, a partner with the EC Harris consultancy, said he viewed the project as an opportunity to create another outstanding landmark structure in Abu Dhabi.
"I think it's well publicised that it's not an easy bridge to construct, and it's very unique in its features, so it's certainly above average in terms of difficulty to build," he said. Mr Risbridger will be a keynote speaker this month at the Bridges Middle East 2010 summit, organised under the patronage of Abu Dhabi Municipality.
The event, which will take place October 24 and 27, will include a tour of the Sheikh Zayed Bridge with the High-Point Rendel consultancy, which supervised the project.
"Many bridges have been becoming iconic in their own right," Mr Risbridger said. "If you look at Sydney, everyone knows the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, or the Tower Bridge in London. I'll be talking around the costs associated in creating a more iconic, recognisable architectural structure in the Middle East."