x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Government looks to private-public partnerships to build Abu Dhabi's new roads

Roads can be made safer and their quality improved by making the companies that build them responsible for their upkeep, say transport experts.

ABU DHABI // Roads can be made safer and their quality improved by making the companies that build them responsible for their upkeep, transport experts said yesterday. When the Government is responsible for improvements and maintenance, work can be delayed as a result of changing public spending priorities, said Abraham Akkawi, of the consultancy Ernst and Young. Under contracts known as public-private partnerships, key performance indicators are set for road standards for private firms, putting the onus on them to ensure the road they built is up to par. If not, payment is withheld.

Mufeed Saleh, the director of highways for Mouchel, a UK-based transport consultancy with offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, said: "In my opinion, they are not right all the time but in many cases this type of project, to achieve better road safety, better construction, it was a good model to work with." Abu Dhabi's Department of Transport is launching its first public-private partnership for a road project: the 327-kilometre motorway between Abu Dhabi and the Saudi border, on which 14 per cent of all car crashes in the emirate occurred in 2007, according to the department. A major part of the overhaul will see flyovers built and dangerous U-turns closed.

The Government wants to spend Dh110 billion (US$2.7bn) to improve and widen the Mafraq-Ghweifat motorway, which is seen as a key test for its approach to public-private deals. Bids from three consortia are being evaluated and under the plans, the winning concession will agree to design and build a motorway, then maintain it for 25 years. Should it prove to be a successful model, then more of the planned Dh300bn of road, bridge and rail projects the Government plans over the next 20 years could be structured the same way, John Lee, the highway and transport planning adviser for the transport department, told delegates at the Mena Transport Infrastructure Conference at the Park Rotana Hotel. Experts such as Anthony Pearce, from the International Roads Federation, said such contracts were the way forward for financing transport projects. However, Harry Dimitriou, the director of the Centre for Mega Projects in Transport Development at the Bartlett School of Planning at University College London, said that there has not been systematic research done to generically acknowledge their success".