Abu Dhabi upgrades its roads to ease congestion and provide major national arteries

Abu Dhabi’s economic and demographic growth over the past decades has necessitated the development of a sophisticated surface transport network. Major road projects have continued to make progress in 2018, with an upgrade to crucial east-west arterial connections completed, and improvements to rural and urban roads ongoing. Government masterplans will see an overhaul of urban transportation networks over the coming decade, with metro and light rail transit (LRT) projects in the capital likely to come to fruition.

Westward Link

In January 2018 Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s representative in the Western Region, inaugurated the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Highway, the substantially upgraded Mafraq-Ghuwaifat Highway. The motorway leads from Abu Dhabi City to the Saudi border in the west and forms a vital communication route through the Al Dhafra Region. Construction work on the 246-km upgraded section of the 327-km motorway began in March 2014 at a cost of Dh5.3bn ($1.4bn). Work was overseen by Abu Dhabi General Services Company (Musanada), a government infrastructure development company. In addition to 246 km of lane expansions, 15 new interchanges were built, and those at Mafraq, Hameem, Abu Al Abyad and Madinat Zayed were upgraded. Work also included livestock underpasses beneath the carriageway.

Major Artery

The Madinat Zayed-Al Mirfa road project, another major artery upgrade in the west, is set for inauguration in February 2019. The 52.2-km road links the administrative centre of the Al Dhafra Region with Al Mirfa on the coast. The improved road from Madinat Zayed also increases the town’s access to Abu Dhabi City, the Ruwais Industrial Complex and Saudi Arabia. Greater connectivity is expected to support economic growth in the resource-rich region as well as encourage greater tourism. According to Musanada’s plan, the road will have a capacity of 5400 vehicles per day and is expected to cut travel times by up to 50%. As of November 2018 the project was 91% complete.


In September 2018 Musanada announced that construction had reached the halfway point on the Dh338m ($92m), 140-km Al Faya-Razeen-Al Quaa project. The road runs from Al Faya, east of Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH), to Al Quaa, a remote settlement on the Omani border south of Al Ain. The project will provide a key link to farms in the region and includes fences to prevent animals from straying into traffic. Construction should be completed by the end of 2019, with civil engineering services being provided by US-based engineering company Otak.

Urban Development

Given that the majority of the emirate’s population lives in urban areas, urban transport planning plays a central role in overall transport network development. The Capital Surface Transport Master Plan (STMP) lays out a clear roadmap for urban transportation development in and around Abu Dhabi City, with a view to ensuring that the infrastructure and services keep pace with population growth.

Short-term projects set to be finished before 2020 include a range of urban and regional road works, enhanced high-frequency bus routes along corridors earmarked for potential future LRT and metro routes, an expansion of ferry services, a park-and-ride system and a low emissions zone on Abu Dhabi Island. Also included are increased parking charges of Dh5 ($1.36) per hour and the launch of a Dh5 ($1.36) congestion zone fee to be implemented during peak periods.

In the medium-term programme until the end of 2025, the government aims to have the Abu Dhabi Metro operational, taking pressure off the capital’s busy roads. The metro will provide a high-capacity public transport link from Al Maryah Island, to the north-east of Abu Dhabi Island and to Yas Island via AUH. Three new park-and-ride facilities will be launched by end-2025, while controlled parking zones and intelligent transport system integration on main roads will be extended. An outer cordon of the congestion zone will also be introduced with higher fees for usage and parking.

The longer-term programme to 2030 foresees the completion of some major road projects, further bus and LRT provision, and changes to the low emission zone system reflecting expected improvements in air quality. Parking charges will be increased to Dh20 ($5.4) per hour, while usage fees will rise to Dh20 ($5.4) in the inner zone and to Dh10 ($2.7) in the outer zone.

Metro & LRT

In July 2018 the Abu Dhabi Department of Transport (DoT) announced a pre-tender for consultancy services for the LRT and the Abu Dhabi Metro. The services include signage, retail and advertising rules, guidelines for park-and-ride facilities, a detouring and construction study, station naming rights, and standard procedures for building information management.

With the consultancies, the DOT will draw up a detailed study of the metro project to ensure that it is delivered within budget and on-time. The study will include three stages: a feasibility study, a preliminary design, and a final contract documentation and tender award. The primary goal is to lay out extensive development plans, including track rail systems; station locations; a schedule; and capital, operation and maintenance cost estimates. The DoT and its partners will also work on ticketing and information systems, coordinating schedules with other public transport services.

The network as a whole is expected to be 131 km long, including an 18-km heavy rail rapid transit (with 5-km underground), a 13-km and a 15-km light rail line, and a 14-km bus rapid transit loop. The metro project has moved forward incrementally, mainly due to the sheer scale of investment and engineering works; however, with momentum returning to public concessions in the transport sector and a renewed focus on the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 plan, there is now confidence that it will move forward. “The project is definitely feasible, and it’s beneficial to push people towards public transport,” Chris Venemore, director of civil infrastructure at engineering company AECOM, told OBG. “It will take some time to get a financial return on the investment, but looking at the positive changes the metro has bought to Dubai, it should go ahead.”

Further Developments

The DoT has also drawn up plans covering Al Gharbia and Al Ain. The Al Gharbia STMP sets out details for the Western Region, where the population is expected to grow from 330,000 in 2015 to 450,000 by 2030. The plan was developed in consultation with a range of stakeholders and seeks to support the region’s economic development. The Etihad Rail project will play a central role by reducing truck traffic, with potential plans to carry passengers.

In October 2018 Musanada announced that it was working on four projects in the Al Ain STMP worth a total of Dh438m ($119.2m). Work includes converting roundabouts into intersections, widening roads and constructing underpasses. The projects are due to be completed over the coming two years, with the final one, an extensive overhaul of the Sultan bin Khalifa Roundabout Underpass, set to open in April 2020.


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The Report: Abu Dhabi 2019

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