x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Shops suffer as Salam Street works discourage visitors

From now until May next year, congestion in the Tourist Club area will be at its worst, with short journeys sometimes lasting more than an hour

Shops in the Tourist Club area report 50 per cent fewer customers since road construction work began last year.
Shops in the Tourist Club area report 50 per cent fewer customers since road construction work began last year.

ABU DHABI // Journeys through the traffic-snarled Tourist Club area can now take a matter of hours, residents and workers say, following the final closure of a section of Salam Street. Several lanes on Salam Street between Meena Road and Al Falah Street were closed two weeks ago, marking the beginning of what is expected to be the worst traffic congestion of the three-year Salam expressway project.

Since the closure, motorists say it is taking them even longer to negotiate the district on the east side of Abu Dhabi Island. The worst of the roadworks is expected to ease in May according to the municipality, when the first section of the Dh5 billion (US$1.36bn) project is completed. A three-lane highway will be extended to four in each direction between Al Saada Street and 29th Street. Shops in the area have reported 50 per cent fewer customers since the construction began last year, and residents have complained of hours-long waits to travel along the narrow strip.

"Right now, to reach here takes between one hour, sometimes two hours," said Qussai Alnajjad, a partner with Ettihad Antique Gallery. Reaching the vicinity of the Tourist Club is not the main problem, he said. Once customers enter the roadwork area, getting across to the Corniche can require up to an hour. "From Airport Road it takes one hour," said the Syrian. "It used to take 10 minutes." Every day after work, Abdul Fatah Sayeed, who lives in the district, travels to the Capital Cafe for a shisha and a Turkish coffee. The restaurant is usually empty now, largely because parking is so scarce and the location difficult to reach.

Although the distance is only a 10-minute walk from his home, Mr Sayeed, 42, from Lebanon, said he has heart problems and so must take a taxi, and the journey can last as long as 90 minutes. "Traffic is a big problem," he said. "A big problem." Residents, who have been struggling with the situation for more than 12 months, remain sceptical that the situation will improve any time soon. "I'll believe it when I see it," said John Dajani, a Palestinian engineer in his 40s who has been a resident of the capital for more than 20 years. "I don't believe that traffic will improve until they've finished all these projects."

The traffic is especially heavy when residents are ferrying their children to school and when large lorries are permitted on the roads, he said. "It depends a lot on the time of day and the day of the week. It's not the same at all," said Mr Dajani's colleague, Khalid Ibrahim, another Palestinian in his 40s. He and his friends meet regularly at Mugg & Bean coffee shop in the Abu Dhabi Mall. Lately, traffic has been a recurring complaint.

The enormous public works project is designed, ultimately, to relieve traffic congestion in the area. When it is finished, planners say, the Salam expressway will be capable of carrying 6,800 vehicles per hour through the area. The municipality said the project was 60 per cent complete and on track to be finished by October. However, that is still a while away for Mr Ibrahim, also an engineer, who has lived in the area for more than a decade.

He said he would have moved if he had known the roadworks would be so disruptive. But as they began just as Abu Dhabi's population began to boom, he was priced out of a new apartment elsewhere. A lack of available parking is exacerbating the problem, he added. As more roads are closed off, residents are blocking lanes in desperation. "Now if you're coming from anywhere at any time of day, you're better to take a taxi," he said. "But even they aren't affordable."

He said what was once a Dh10 trip now costs Dh30. Mr Dajani said he understood that road works cause delays, but wishes the municipality had show more foresight. "They should have done this in stages, not all at once." Gerryl Lorico, a sales representative at the Grand Store in Abu Dhabi Mall, said he and his colleagues were struggling to meet their sales targets. "Now we need to push to close the deal because people are more rare," he said.

A year ago, the store had no problems meeting its sales targets. "Now, business is not so good," he said, adding that they were meeting between 75 and 85 per cent of their quotas. However, that looks rosy next to smaller shops. Rajeesh Put, who works at Jewel Craft, said there were half as many customers as in previous years. Nelia Elento, who has worked at the Optical Palace on Salam Street for eight years, said she did not know how much longer the shop could stay open.

"It's been very bad for business. There are no customer and sales are down 50 per cent. It's very bad." jgerson@thenational.ae