x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

More than a motorway, E11 was the road to progress for a new nation

This was the missing link in the fledgling nation's road network; paved motorways already connected Abu Dhabi to Al Ain, and Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah, but not its two biggest cities.

The border crossing between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Courtesy of Peter Jackson
The border crossing between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Courtesy of Peter Jackson

Even before the ink was dry on the new constitution of the United Arab Emirates in December 1971, agreement had been reached to build a motorway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

This was the missing link in the fledgling nation's road network; paved motorways already connected Abu Dhabi to Al Ain, and Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah, but not its two biggest cities.

Finally Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid, rulers of the two emirates, met together in the desert to agree on the exact path of the new route.

Construction began in 1972, with a single carriageway in each direction. From Abu Dhabi it would begin at what is now the E22 to Al Ain. The location was called Mafraq, Arabic for junction, and the area is still known by this name today.

In Dubai, the new road would begin at the Defence Roundabout or First Interchange and push through past Jebel Ali to the border at Seih Ash Sheib. Regular commuters between the two cities will know that the border these days is identified by a subtle change of colour in the tarmac, with a row of trees that begins down the central reservation of the Abu Dhabi section.

Although by 1973 the road was all but complete, it was realised that a single carriageway would be inadequate for the volume of traffic.

On the orders of Sheikh Zayed, construction began on a second carriageway alongside the first, creating a four lane motorway. By 1978, the road was finished.

Since then, the E11 has been upgraded at least twice to create the eight-lane highway that speeds travellers between the two cities in less than an hour and a half.

In the 1990s, the Dubai section of the E11 was renamed Sheikh Zayed Road in honour of the President. In reply, Abu Dhabi renamed its section Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Road.

Even today the road remains a work in progress, with a major widening project and junction under construction at Al Samha to serve the new Kizad port and industrial area.