Museums, marinas, lagoons and the Ferrari theme park will be just some of the sights over the next five years on the Shahama-Saadiyat highway.
Driver's eye view of a new world
ABU DHABI // When the Shahama-Saadiyat Highway opens this year, surrounded by construction sites, it will offer little clue to the true scale of the impressive developments lying ahead. But in five years' time, when drivers leave Mina Zayed on the 10-lane road towards Dubai, they will get the best view of some of the city's biggest new attractions, starting almost as soon as they set off.
Immediately ahead and to the left of the bridge crossing to the island will be the Saadiyat Cultural District, which will eventually be the home of the capital's arts scene. The full cultural district will occupy 270 hectares, around 10 per cent of the island, and is expected to be completed by 2018. Phase one of the project will be the construction of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums and the Sheikh Zayed National Museum, with building due to be completed by 2012.
The opening of the three museums will be staggered over the following two years, its developers, the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) said earlier this year. In the far distance to the left will be the imposing figure of the Guggenheim, with its distinctive turrets jutting in opposing directions from a small pocket of land on the most advanced tip of Saadiyat. Designed by Frank Gehry, the American architect, it will be the largest of all the Saadiyat museums, at 450,000 square feet.
Closest to the bridge to the left will be the Performing Arts Centre, designed by Zaha Hadid. The white building will rise from ground level out towards the sea, and will house five theatres, including a concert hall and opera house. Between the two will stand the Louvre, a speckled low dome hanging over the coastline, designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel. As though there were not enough to catch the driver's eye on the left-hand side, a long marina with room for 1,000 boats will hug the right of the bridge.
Further within Saadiyat Island, the highway will skirt The Lagoons, a residential development with private jetties for each house, before continuing off Saadiyat, over smaller islands and on to Yas Island. Most prominent in the distance as the island approaches will be Ferrari World, an enormous red-roofed dome with outstretched arms that will house the first Ferrari theme park, including a number of rollercoasters and other rides, to open in 2010.
Drivers using the highway will get a close view of Ferrari World to their right-hand side when they are halfway across Yas Island. Before that, however, the figure of the Warner Bros theme park will emerge. One of the Yas projects about which least is known, the Warner Bros attraction will be one of the last to be built, opening by around 2013. The Yas Marina Circuit, the island's centrepiece, will be visible in the distance beyond Ferrari World. The 5.55km-long circuit will host the first Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix on Nov 1.
As drivers pass over a bridge linking Yas Island and the mainland and the final stretch of the highway, a quick glimpse to the right will reveal the Yas Marina Hotel, a T-shaped building cloaked in a colour-changing "shell", as well as a super-yacht marina. Further beyond that to the right will be the towers of the Al Raha Beach development, a small city in its own right that will stretch over 5.2 million square metres of the mainland coastline.