x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Traffic chaos as major road closed

Motorists caught off guard by the closure of Salam Street were left fuming as they battled traffic chaos.

Traffic backed up on Al Salam Street.
Traffic backed up on Al Salam Street.

Abu Dhabi // Motorists caught off guard by the closure of Salam Street were left fuming in their vehicles as they battled longer-than-expected commutes. Traffic planners insisted they were diligent in preparing alternative routes before closing the street - one of the capital's busiest - and had run traffic simulations on their changes. But the result in real life was roads resembling car parks as thousands of frustrated drivers attempted to work out the new routes. "If it will continue like this until they completely shut down Salam it means everyone is going to evacuate Abu Dhabi," said one motorist, before a cacophony of horns forced him to move on. Atef Garib, technical adviser to the general manager of Abu Dhabi Municipality, said that changes would be made to help commuters use the alternative routes. Motorists could have helped themselves yesterday if they had followed signs directing them to travel up towards Abu Dhabi Mall, he said. "Motorists are captive, they are used to using this road," said Mr Garib. "All of a sudden, it's blocked for the first time in their life. Usually in any place in the world it takes a week to come back to normal." The cause of the chaos, which spread to surrounding roads on one of the busiest parts of the island, was the start of work on a large-scale project to upgrade Salam Street. Once completed at a cost of Dh5 billion (US$1.36bn), it will turn the street into an expressway with up to five lanes and no traffic signals from the Meena area to Sheikh Zayed Bridge. The project also features a tunnel, flyovers, below-level intersections and grade-separated interchanges. For instance, at the intersection of Salam and Hazza bin Zayed streets, a bridge and tunnel will provide three levels of traffic, with Salam Street through-traffic going underground while local traffic stays at the surface. Hazza bin Zayed through-traffic will travel over the intersection. Planners pointed out that the delays were an unfortunate by-product of the first major road upgrade in the middle of the city. The work, which is being carried out 24 hours a day, will double Salam Street's road capacity to 6,000 vehicles per hour. Both 10th Street and 12th Street, which run in front of Abu Dhabi Mall, have been made one-way roads to accommodate diverted vehicles. Three pedestrian bridges have also been built on those roads and another three are planned to help improve traffic flow while protecting pedestrians, who could be seen using the first bridges yesterday. That was no comfort to motorists stuck in traffic well beyond the usual peak hours yesterday. At Al Falah Street cars were stranded in the middle of intersections when their drivers misjudged or ignored the traffic signals, and police had to step in to direct traffic. Around noon, heavy lorries and light vehicles mixed in a jam on Salam Street that stretched back towards Al Nahda Street. In the other direction, vehicles coming from the Corniche met resistance at Meena Road, where lorries were holding up traffic at the intersection. Some lorry drivers stood on the road, next to their vehicles, while waiting for the queue to move. One taxi driver, Shinu Peethamberan, 24, said the congestion was hurting his bottom line. "Too much traffic," said Mr Peethamberan, from India, adding that he had been avoiding the Tourist Club area since construction began there as part of the upgrade project. "It is hard to get passengers." Essa Sultan, a Emirati, said it had taken him 20 minutes to make a trip that normally takes five minutes. "They closed the road here and they make it big traffic here," said Mr Sultan, 35. "They need special control on the road when they want to do something better for the road." mchung@thenational.ae