Paving the way: Expanded road routes will help meet the needs of a growing population

As cars are the primary mode of transportation in Ras Al Khaimah, the emirate’s growing population means an increasing number of vehicles are taking to local roads, affecting traffic patterns and creating jams. Both the local and federal governments have recognised the importance of upgrading road infrastructure, and a number of projects are in the pipeline.

BY THE NUMBERS: The RAK Department of Economic Development (RAK DED) reported that a total of 81,940 registered vehicles were on the emirate’s roads in 2010. This figure included 17,507 new vehicles, 46,363 renewed vehicles and 17,070 vehicles transferred from another emirate. The total number of registered vehicles in 2010 grew from 78,708 in 2009 and 58,293 in 2008, resulting in an increase in vehicles on RAK’s roads by around 40% over just two years.

According to the most recent data from the RAK DED, new and renewal registration vehicles during 2010 were almost exclusively private. Taxis comprised the second-largest segment of vehicle renewals that year. A total of 25,581 driving licences were issued in 2010, with the majority of those issued for operating cars. Licences for trucks and mini-buses made up the second- and third-largest categories, respectively.

Despite the increase of registered vehicles on RAK’s roads, the number of traffic accidents has steadily declined since 2008. The RAK DED reports that while 1088 accidents occurred in 2009, this figure dropped to 930 in 2009 and to 615 accidents in 2010, effectively reducing the number of accidents by close to half.

ROAD DEVELOPMENT PLAN: In early 2008 plans were announced to invest up to Dh3bn ($816.6m) in a road improvement programme spanning four to five years. With funding coming from the federal and local governments, projects will follow the RAK Road Network Development Strategy. The new plan outlines a number of key projects including building flyovers, adjusting some junctions to decrease congestion, widening a number of existing roads and extending the Emirates Road, which connects RAK with Dubai. The Al Jais Mountain Road will also be built, and the RAK Coastal Road as well as the road running from Siji to Shawkah will be further developed. Some new roads will stretch through rural areas and link up to quarries.

These projects will not only benefit RAK residents and commuters, but also industry. “The RAK Road Network Development Strategy is not just to serve the urban environment, but it also aims to help the industrial and manufacturing economy that figures prominently in the emirate’s plans for the future,” said David Yaw, regional managing director at the engineering consultancy Halcrow, at the announcement of the road improvement programme in 2008.

SHEIKH KHALIFA HIGHWAY: In early December 2011 officials inaugurated the Sheikh Khalifa Highway (SKH). The new road connects Dubai and Fujairah, passing through RAK, and cuts travel time between the two emirates by one hour. It took five years to complete and cost around Dh1.7bn ($462.7m). Authorities report that the highway has absorbed 80% of traffic on the older Al Dhaid-Fujairah road.

The SKH measures around 40 km in length and consists of three lanes. Beginning at Fujairah City, the new highway stretches through the Al Gazirmi area, Wadi Sahm, Asfeeni, Mamdooh, and the Shawka and Kadra Valleys in RAK and ends at the Maleeha Road in Sharjah. Part of the road passes through 5 km of mountains. In addition to reducing commuting times, the SKH should create business opportunities along the highway as investors look to serve travellers.

The SKH’s speed limit is set at 100 km per hour, and authorities will monitor traffic flow to quickly identify and resolve any difficulties. The UAE federal government funded the highway as part of its strategy to expand infrastructure in the Northern Emirates, and the Ministry of Public Works is facilitating the project.

RAK RING ROAD: Another key road project, the RAK Ring Road will connect the all of the emirate’s external and internal roads and is scheduled to be finished by 2020. Originally announced in 2008, the project is expected to cost roughly Dh1bn ($272.2m). It will include work on the Al Qusaidat-Shaam Road linking the Shamal area with the Emirates Road in Al Dhait. This road will consist of three lanes on each side. Three primary upper intersections in addition to three upper secondary intersections will be built, and lighting will be installed along 116 km of the highway.

The aim of the project is to alleviate the major congestion points in RAK, some of which are caused by heavy trucks shipping goods through the emirate. The RAK Ring Road will connect truck traffic coming from quarries and factories in RAK’s southern Khor Al Khoir area with the Emirates Road, easing traffic flows on the Nakheel, Kharran and Khozam routes.

Besides reducing congestion caused by loaded trucks, the RAK Ring Road will also facilitate more direct travel routes for commuters. Vehicles driving south from Shamal and other areas in the northern part of RAK will be able to avoid the slower, crowded roads in municipal zones and link directly to the Emirates Road.

BRIDGE WORK: New and planned bridges in the emirate should further streamline ground links. In February 2012 Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the emirate’s ruler, approved the construction of three new road bridges. The first will be built in the south of RAK City near the Cove Rotana Resort; the second bridge will be constructed adjacent to the Al Manar Mall in the city’s centre; and the third overpass will be located on Al Montaser Street next to the Hilton Hotel, also in RAK City. With plans to begin construction immediately, the bridges should be complete by the end of 2012.

Also in early February 2012 Sheikh Saud inaugurated the Union Bridge on Ittihad (meaning “union”) Road near the city centre. The bridge, which stretches 500 metres and contains three lanes on both sides, is the emirate’s second road bridge to be built. Construction work took six months. The bridge will ease congestion in an area that often suffers from heavy traffic. Many commuters travel through the area on their way to the Emirates Road or the Red Island area.

URBAN TRANSPORT: In early January 2012, the RAK Transport Authority (RAKTA) reported that it was in the final phase of launching internal bus routes throughout the emirate. RAKTA announced that bus routes between Nahkeel and Al Shaam will be running by April or May. There is currently public demand for an internal bus service in the emirate, and once implemented, such a programme should facilitate urban transport and could substantially alleviate traffic on RAK roads, provided the service expands and is widely used.

The five-year road improvement programme allocates significant funds from both the local and federal governments to upgrade existing roads while adding others. The SKH has already been finished, and the RAK Ring Road should shorten commutes and improve transport among quarries and factories. Bridge and urban transport upgrades should further improve local roads. Although more work lies ahead, the sector is making steady progress, and the ongoing development of the road network should help ensure the emirate’s growing population gets around safely and rapidly.

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