x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Dubai drivers yearn for end to road works

Motorists welcome the expansion of major thoroughfares but yearn for an end to the rows of red cones and yellow road signs.

Dubai motorists welcome the expansion of major thoroughfares but yearn for an end to the rows of red cones and yellow road signs.
Dubai motorists welcome the expansion of major thoroughfares but yearn for an end to the rows of red cones and yellow road signs.

DUBAI // The completion of extensive and seemingly constant road works is high on the New Year's wish list of Dubai drivers, who say the projects have turned sections of the emirate into permanent construction sites.

Motorists, some of whom spend at least an hour in traffic each day, generally welcomed the expansion of major thoroughfares such as the Sheikh Zayed and Emirates roads as it shortens their commuting time. Still, they yearned for an end to the rows of red cones and yellow road signs that are ever-present reminders of traffic diversions.

"Sometimes the construction doesn't look like it will ever get finished. It just takes too long," said Mansi Iyer, a management student, about a stretch of road leading from downtown Bur Dubai through Oud Metha towards the popular Lamcy Plaza. "The diversions seem to have been there forever. It becomes difficult for people and adds to traffic."

That construction zone is just one of many. The four Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) projects taken up this year included the extensive Parallel Roads project near Business Bay, approach roads to the Dubai Sports Complex and building up the streets leading to the residential/commercial Al Barsha area.

Those are just the new roadworks. Ongoing projects involve construction at the First Interchange, the Defence Roundabout, the Al Ittihad Road near Sharjah and the Emirates and Al Khail roads, both of which are important highways. The RTA has said that while portions of the Sheikh Zayed Road scheme will be completed by the middle of next year, other projects would take as long as three years.

"Work must go on. This is for the future," said a senior RTA official who declined to be identified. "The RTA wants smooth traffic for all and this road work will ensure that."

That view was backed by Varkki Pallathucheril, a professor of urban planning at the American University of Sharjah, who said sustained construction was a necessary evil in a constantly growing city.

"The challenge that the RTA faces is incredible," he said. "It is a monumental task to provide good and sufficient transportation infrastructure. If you look around you can see that effort. We can quibble about the details, but that to me is not a useful discussion."

Some of the construction costs are covered by Dubai's Salik electronic toll collection system on the Sheikh Zayed Road, which charges Dh4 per scan. However, some motorists avoid that expense by using the Emirates and Al Khail roads as an alternative to coughing up the road tax.

The RTA reportedly collected Dh776 million in Salik fees in 2009 compared with Dh669 million in 2008 and Dh214 million over six months after July 2007, when the toll was introduced in Dubai.

"These roads without Salik are better and some portions are amazing because they get you to places like Motor City in 20 minutes," said Farah Agha, the head of a trading and property management firm. "Before it was a nightmare. If you needed to meet somebody at the other end of town you would never, ever make it."

The wide-ranging construction sites brought queries from some people who wanted to know why specific projects were not completed before another swathe of roadway was torn up.

"Why don't they complete existing work - finish a road, complete a flyover - rather than launch into something new?," asked Candice Xavier, a resident of the Springs community, where heavy road machinery has turned what should be quiet residential streets into main traffic arteries amid extensive and noisy roadworks.

While connectivity may have improved in some places, travelling to Sharjah remains an irritant to many motorists. Navigation of the Sheikh Zayed Road in eastern Dubai can be a challenge, with constantly shifting diversions, occasional gridlock and poorly marked exits.

The Dubai-based Ms Agha, for example, ensures she travels to Sharjah against rush-hour traffic. For others such as the bank manager Ali Lahoud, the commute is a daily four-wheeled grind.

"Whatever they [RTA] do - one, two or three lanes - it still takes me close to two hours some days," said Mr Lahoud who lives in Sharjah and works in Dubai. "The roads get choked both ways and this is a daily routine. There must be a solution because people just lose their patience."

That solution may not come through normal organisational channels. Essa al Maidour, the Dubai Municipality assistant director for engineering and planning, believes more creative thinking is needed in the years ahead.

"Sometimes engineering solutions are not the answer," he said. "We are expanding to the best efficiency but even 10 lanes may not be efficient sometimes. We have to change behaviours, we can change office timings. We have to think outside the box, whether as users, as the public or as government bodies."