x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Gridlock as construction closes busy city road

Police say 30th Street closure could not be avoided but drivers, caught unawares, honk horns, flash lights and go for the tiniest of gaps.

A police officer directs motorists at 30th and 19th Streets during last night's traffic chaos.
A police officer directs motorists at 30th and 19th Streets during last night's traffic chaos.

ABU DHABI // Construction on one of the city's busiest thoroughfares led to a traffic block that drivers said was several kilometres long last night. A small section of Al Khaleej al Arabi Street, one of the three largest roads off Abu Dhabi island, was closed for 12 hours yesterday so work could be completed. Motorists said that just after 6pm there had been queues of several kilometres, reaching well onto Abu Dhabi island on the southbound lanes. Some motorists were stuck in traffic near Al Saada Street for more than 45 minutes, with cars diverted away towards Airport Road, which was also busy.

Col Hussein al Harithi, the head of the Abu Dhabi Police traffic engineering department, said the closure had been unavoidable as a pedestrian bridge was being built near the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. "It was necessary to shut down the Al Khaleej al Arabi motorway in both directions, between Al Saada Street and the Shariah Court Bridge, due to the construction works on going there throughout the night," Col al Harithi said.

He said traffic patrols had been sent there just before 5pm to close the road and divert traffic, and that the motorway was due to be reopened at 5am today. Despite the increased patrols, motorists met severe delays, some of which were caused by drivers entering intersections before they were clear, blocking oncoming traffic. Red-light cameras at many intersections were flashing constantly as drivers tried to move clear of the intersection. Many motorists flashed their lights and honked their horns in frustration.

On the radio, announcers from both English and Arabic stations were warning motorists to avoid the area, suggesting they travel up Muroor Road, Airport Road or Al Salam Street. Police along the motorway struggled at times to keep order as drivers' tempers boiled over. At 19th and 30th, cars were stopped bumper to bumper in the middle of the intersection after the lights had changed from green to red.

But drivers approaching from the opposite direction drove straight into the queue of waiting traffic, and tried to drive through the smallest gaps. At one point, a cement mixer tried to squeeze past a Ferrari 430, although no damage was done. Adel Anwar, a 23-year-old student who was driving to the airport to pick up his sister said he had been waiting in traffic for 25 minutes. "All the way from Abu Dhabi, there is nothing, nothing to say there are problems," Mr Anwar said. "I reach here and suddenly there are cars. There is no warning and I am now going to be late. Why can't the police tell us? We just drive straight into traffic here."

The opposite lanes on Al Khaleej al Arabi street were closed for 15 hours last week for the first section of the overpass to be built. More delays are expected on the road over the next two months, with roads closed and diversions in place in the weeks leading up to the International Defence Exhibition on Feb 22, to allow advertising and exhibits to be erected. Until March 22, traffic heading towards Abu Dhabi will be diverted on to the other side of the road, which will be divided into two lanes.

rhughes@thenational.ae ealghalib@thenational.ae