x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Building to start on new downtown

Abu Dhabi's new Capital District is being built to house government buildings and hundreds of thousands of residents.

ABU DHABI // Real work will start on the capital's "second downtown" within two months when the final designs are revealed, a senior Urban Planning Council official announced yesterday. The new Capital District, to be located to the south of Abu Dhabi Island, is being built to house government buildings and hundreds of thousands of people. Falah al Ahbabi, the general manager of the Urban Planning Council (UPC), which is co-ordinating the project, said he was nearing an announcement of its final designs.

"There are a couple of designs that need to be finalised with service providers such as the education council and the health authority," Mr Ahbabi said. "Once we have finished that we will be in a position to make an announcement." He added that the implementation of plans for the district would then start "very quickly, in a month or two months". All government buildings and embassies, as well as some universities and many homes, will move to the 5,000-hectare site outside the city by 2030.

The site will house about 350,000 residents and workers, or about a third of the current population of the island. It is likely to be connected to Dubai and the centre of Abu Dhabi by a rail link. The development is being seen as crucial to allowing more breathing space for residents of Abu Dhabi island, which is considered to be 30 per cent overpopulated. Speaking at the MEED Abu Dhabi Conference 2008 at the National Exhibition Centre, Mr Ahbabi said the UPC had shifted from the planning stage of Abu Dhabi's future to the implementation of its vision for the city's overall development.

It has established relationships with property developers and government entities expected to be heavily involved in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030. He added that large-scale developments such as Al Raha Beach and Reem Island were progressing rapidly. Abu Dhabi's transport plans were also progressing at "a fast pace" and a public announcement in January would confirm the future milestones of various parts of the plan, said Mr Ahbabi.

"Mass transport is a priority. It's a must for any city to grow and we have a very strong transport strategy." Mr Ahbabi highlighted traffic congestion and a lack of housing as major issues for the capital. "The economic development of the city is faster than the growth of construction. It takes a minimum of three years to build these [residential] neighbourhoods." A metro is expected to be in place by 2020. It will be mainly underground and will provide faster service between Abu Dhabi's main commercial areas.

One line will run down the spine of Abu Dhabi Island, delivering commuters between the Capital District and downtown Abu Dhabi. Another line may run north-east from the Corniche area to Saadiyat Island, and on to Yas Island and eventually the airport. Metro lines will terminate inland at the planned communities for UAE nationals of Al Falah, New Wathba and Shamkah. Tram lines are also expected to open in 2015. The Department of Transport's (DoT) initial drawings show the tram, which will be at street level, doing the bulk of the mass transit work.

It will focus heavily on the downtown area, with stops at every block in the busiest areas. It will also bisect Suwwah Island, form a loop around Reem Island, and visit more than a dozen stations along the north-western edge of Saadiyat Island. The tram will pass through Masdar City, a US$15 billion (Dh55bn), carbon-neutral development, and new projects out in the desert. They include Al Reef, which will house 17,000 residents in villas and apartments near the airport, and up the line the communities of Hydra City and Al Falah, the latter of which is designated for Emiratis.

A third layer of rail-based systems will be a regional train service, which the DoT said may be completed between 2020 and 2030. The network is likely to start downtown and run through Raha Beach and Capital City before the lines branch off to Al Ain, Dubai, and on to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. rditcham@thenational.ae