At the World Road Congress, Abu Dhabi will be paving the way to the future
Just 50 years ago, cars were few and far between and people had no option but to travel over difficult terrain
With an expansive network covering a staggering 25,000 kilometres, there are few who can say they do not depend on Abu Dhabi's roads. Whether it is commuting to work, using public transport, meeting friends and family, or simply enjoying the great outdoors, the roads in Abu Dhabi are plied by thousands of people every day.
Roads are an essential part of our daily lives in the UAE, as they are in most parts of the world. We might not think twice about them when we are travelling in cars, taxis and buses – but just take a moment to imagine what that journey might be like if there wasn’t a fully integrated road network traversing our cities.
That network is indispensable and has made getting from A to B easier than ever before.
Thanks to the hard work of the department of transport, the UAE has been recognised by the World Economic Forum as having the best quality roads in the world for four years running, a record we are extremely proud of.
What makes this achievement even more remarkable is that Abu Dhabi developed a road infrastructure from scratch when the country was founded. Just 50 years ago, cars would take four hours to follow tracks in the sand dunes to get from Abu Dhabi to Dubai and vice versa. Sheikh Zayed Road, built in the 1970s, drastically cut that journey time and today, is used by thousands of people every day.
When cars were few and far between, people had no option but to use those sandy routes to travel to Al Ain, the coastal areas of Abu Dhabi island, Liwa in Al Dhafra and other neighbouring emirates. Those journeys were even more daunting to make in unpredictable weather.
But as the UAE grew to become a key destination for trade and business, a huge effort to invest in the road network began, making travelling easy and commonplace rather than an arduous hurdle.
With careful planning by the transport department, there are now seamless connections to frequently visited destinations such as hospitals, schools and shopping centres as well as links to the northern emirates.
Under the vision of the late Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father of the UAE, infrastructure improved drastically.
He realised that to deliver a modern and fully integrated road network, it was essential to learn from other countries. Experienced and highly qualified engineers and road professionals were recruited from more than 100 countries and, with their knowledge and expertise, were tasked with helping make Sheikh Zayed’s vision a reality.
Initially the engineers were faced with challenges. Many of the roads that were originally laid on the sabkha, or salt flats, were deteriorating. It was not until Sheikh Zayed suggested using extra layers of rock subbase – a type of aggregate material – underneath the new roads that the problem of salt corrosion was solved and the lifespan of the roads increased.
Extreme temperatures also proved to be challenging, with asphaltic concrete causing road surfaces to melt or crack easily. However, with the help of government experts, mixes of materials were developed that made the roads more durable and sustainable.
Fast forward to today and Abu Dhabi boasts an extensive connective road infrastructure while the city is home to four bridges – Al Maqta, the first bridge in Abu Dhabi, Musaffah, Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Khalifa. With careful planning by the transport department, there are now seamless connections to frequently visited destinations such as hospitals, schools and shopping centres as well as links to the northern emirates.
As the population of Abu Dhabi continues to increase and with more people on the roads than ever before, the transport department has taken measures to improve road safety. The government follows the "three Es" principle – education, enforcement and engineering – to help prevent accidents and ease congestion.
The network today would not have been possible without investment from the government, which spearheaded the drive to install the latest technology.
This includes intelligent transport systems, which have become an indispensable tool in providing up-to-date traffic information and reducing travel time.
Across Abu Dhabi, there are also various well-positioned traffic signs to warn drivers of hazardous conditions and safety technology such as CCTV cameras have been installed to ensure a safer commute.
At the department of transport, while we continue to improve our roads infrastructure we always ensure we are one step ahead when it comes to future developments. Plans are already in place to ensure we can cope with the additional services of high-speed trains, trams and metro projects, which form part of Abu Dhabi’s Economic Vision for 2030.
These are just some of the initiatives that will be showcased next week at the 26th World Road Congress in Abu Dhabi, which begins on Sunday. More than 3,000 experts from around the world, including 50 global transport ministers, will gather to hear about the latest technology and important initiatives in road safety and road development.
Thousands of road transport professionals and more than 300 exhibitors from the private and public sectors will participate in the summit in the capital.
There are exciting times ahead. With technology continuing to evolve, traversing the UAE's roads will not be the same in the future. The World Road Congress will provide a fascinating insight into what we can expect from road systems, both in Abu Dhabi and around the world, in the future.
Ahmed Alhammadi is head of the organising committee of Abu Dhabi World Road Congress 2019
Updated: October 1, 2019 06:06 PM