x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Light at the end of Salam Street tunnel

A 3.2km tunnel is the biggest hurdle remaining for the Dh5bn expressway, but officials promise an October finish.

The Meena Road portion of the tunnel on Salam Street begins to take shape.
The Meena Road portion of the tunnel on Salam Street begins to take shape.

ABU DHABI // Sections of the redeveloped Salam Street expressway will be ready for vehicles in May, officials behind the capital's biggest and most complex infrastructure project said yesterday.

"We are on schedule," said Abdulla al Shamsi, director of municipal assets and infrastructure for Abu Dhabi Municipality. He said that work on the three-year, Dh5 billion (US$1.36bn) project was 60 per cent complete and that the last of it would be finished by October. When completed, the Salam Street project will create a freeway that allows vehicles to travel from the Meena area to Sheikh Zayed Bridge without facing a traffic signal.

The expressway will carry twice as many vehicles as the old road. The news that construction is nearing an end came as a relief to many residents and business owners in the area who have endured months of noise and dust. "Business should definitely get better once the construction is over," said Praveen K K, the manager of the India Palace restaurant on Salam Street. "The number of customers we see at night has decreased the most, mainly because there is now no place to park even behind the restaurant. So we will be happy once all the work is over."

However, more diversions for motorists travelling in the area are on the way first. The municipality said the last available lanes of Salam Street in the Tourist Club Area will close tomorrow. The road will be closed in both directions from Meena Road to Al Falah Street so that excavation on a 3.2km tunnel running under Salam Street can continue, said Mr al Shamsi. That portion of Salam Street will be closed until October.

Further along Salam, and also where the road bends onto Meena, work is in progress on the Dh3bn tunnel, the centrepiece of the expansion project. The tunnel, scheduled for completion in October 2010, will be the last of the roadworks to be finished. "We have started the tunnel work. It is a big step," Mr al Shamsi said. The recent rain has not affected their schedule, he said; pumps used during excavation were employed to carry away rainwater.

During a tour yesterday, members of the media were able to stand on a stretch of paved road running towards an overpass at the site of a future interchange near the Ministry of Labour. That piece of road, extending from 29th Street toward the Sheikh Khalifa Bridge, is scheduled for completion in August. But a person involved with the work said a small section of the under-construction road could be opened sooner.

Elsewhere, the road is being widened from three lanes to four in each direction from 29th Street to Al Saada Street. That work should be finished in May. Where Salam intersects Hazza bin Zayed and Delma streets, work is also in an advanced stage. The skeleton of what will be the 230m-long bridge for traffic heading towards Reem Island on Hazza bin Zayed is in place on either side of the road. Work is expected to be completed there by May as well.

Challenges continue to arise daily, Mr al Shamsi said, as workers excavate around utilities. Salam Street not only carries much of the traffic into and out of Abu Dhabi, it also is a main artery for television cables, phone lines, high-voltage power cables, and water and sewer pipes. "The utilities crossing Al Salam, that is the challenge because we need to keep all the utilities working while digging underneath," Mr al Shamsi said."

Ground was broken on the project in October 2007 but most commuters did not feel the impact of the work until last December, when roads in the busy Tourist Club Area were first blocked so work could begin on the tunnel. The first block of tunnel wall has been constructed on Meena Road. For businesses nearly marooned by construction, the completion of a new and improved Salam Street cannot come soon enough. Mustafa Gad, a showroom manager at Continental Tyres, located on the intersection of Salam and Electra Street, said: "We have lost all our walk-in customers. The construction has been a nightmare. There is a lot of noise and it doesn't stop from the time I walk into the showroom at 8pm in the morning until the time I leave at 8pm."

The problems are just as severe for residents. Tony Helou, from Lebanon, said: "There is a lot of noise, especially in the mornings and late in the nights. Just look around and you'll see that this place feels like a campsite because of all the dust, the noise and the congestion." Other residents complained about disturbances caused by the movement of heavy machinery. Residents without cars said it was difficult to find taxis or get to a bus stop.

Nina Nelson, a 40-year-old Indian who works as an office administrator at a company on the Corniche Road, said she budgeted more than 15 minutes to reach her workplace. Before the construction, it was a five-minute commute. "I cannot find a cab to get to work, and so I need to walk to and fro. It is really hard for me to do this at the end of the day, and it was terrible during the summer," she said.

When informed that the project is expected to end on time, some residents were sceptical. "I doubt that the construction will finish in a year because nothing ever seems to finish on time here," said Mr Helou, "Especially big projects like this." Click here to view an interactive map of the Salam Street expressway. mchung@thenational.ae