x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The UAE's longest road has many names

The thoroughfare you know as Sheikh Zayed Road has several other names depending on where in the Emirates you are.

It was just before we were packing up to leave work when the mobile phone rang. A colleague who had left earlier on the return commute to Dubai was calling in a traffic jam just before Shahama.

"You might want to avoid that part of the Sheikh Zayed Road" was the advice.

But he was wrong. Not about the jam, which was horrendous and caused by the usual selfish driving, but his location. He wasn't on the Sheikh Zayed Road at all.

To be fair, tens of thousands of other people make the same mistake. The Sheikh Zayed Road is what we commonly call the main highway that runs between the UAE's two major cities. Only that's not its name.

There is a Sheikh Zayed Road, which starts in the heart of Dubai at the interchange with the Trade Centre Roundabout. It runs through the heart of the city, following the metro line, past the Mall of the Emirates, beyond Dubai Marina and out past Jebel Ali into the desert.

And then it stops. Or rather, at the border with Abu Dhabi at Saih Shuaib, the colour of highway surface changes imperceptibly and a row of trees springs up along the central reservation.

You are now in the emirate of Abu Dhabi and at the start of Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Road, as proclaimed by a large sign just down the road.

As a mark of respect to each other, the two emirates have named the motorway that connects them after former rulers. But if the entire length of highway cannot be called the Sheikh Zayed Road - or indeed the Sheikh Maktoum Road - then what is it?

This is where things become complicated. The proper designated name for these two sections of road, which continue north-east to Ras al Khaimah, is the E11. It even has its own Wikipedia page, which correctly notes that the E11 is the longest road in the UAE, but incorrectly gives its start as the Maqta Bridge in Abu Dhabi.

Consulting any road atlas will show that the E11 bypasses the city of Abu Dhabi and then continues due west for nearly 300 kilometres following the coast to the border with Saudi Arabia.

The confusion comes just before Shahama, where following the E11 actually involves leaving the main road, which continues towards the city. The signs do not make it clear, but maps and my GPS list the main road to the city both as Channel Street and the Abu Dhabi-Dubai Road.

Channel Street, probably named because it runs along a channel of sea and two large off-shore islands, takes the driver past Al Raha Beach to the new Sheikh Zayed Bridge. At this point it becomes Salaam Street, confusingly still also listed on some maps as the Eastern Ring Road and 8th Street.

So the proper name for the highway, leaving from Abu Dhabi, is the Salam Street-Channel Street-Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Road-Sheikh Zayed Road Road (incorporating part of the E11). No wonder most people just call it the Sheikh Zayed Road.

Construction of the road was approved by Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid in 1968, although work did not begin for another two years and was finally completed a decade later, replacing a desert track first with a tarmac single lane in each direction, and eventually a motorway.

But the confusion over the name shows how uncertain we are about its history. In the year of the UAE's 40th birthday, we at The National would like to set the story straight. So if you have any information, anecdotes or photographs about the construction of a highway we take for granted - even if we don't know its name - then please get in touch with us.

Just not while you are driving.