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Ring the changes

Highways - Engineers in the Middle East are hurrying to complete the first two phases of the $175M Sharjah Ring Road. Bernadette Redfern reports.

The Emirate state of Sharjah is located to the north of Dubai and, like its wealthy sister, it is experiencing a boom in infrastructure investment. Part of this is the 32km Sharjah ring road, a new $175M road that the state government hopes will revolutionise traffic flows into and around the city.

'People live in Sharjah, where rent is cheaper, and commute to Dubai for work, so the traffic is terrible, ' says Halcrow project manager Jim Richardson. 'There were real problems with people coming off the roads and taking shortcuts over the sand, ' he says.

The 25km journey between Dubai and Sharjah is one of the busiest in all of the Emirates.

A recent multi million dollar upgrade of Dubai's roads means traffic is able to flow in and out of Dubai quite freely, but the congestion hits when cars reach the mainly residential streets of Sharjah. Sharjah itself is also expanding.

'The gnificant thrust in Sharjah's highway programme is necessitated by the rapid growth in its development of commercial, residential and industrial infrastructure, ' says Halcrow director for highways in the Middle East and Asia, Abdul Matin Khan.

To combat this, Sharjah's government decided to fast track design and construction of the southernmost section of the 32km road. This is the 5km Al Nahda link which will provide a new channel for all the commuter traffic, easing flows into, out of, and around Sharjah.

But bringing the project forward presented a considerable challenge for Halcrow. The government wanted the $28.3M link complete by August 2004.

This was in January, and no design had yet been done.

'Tenders were issued in January 2004 for one typical section, consisting of an interchange and related roads, based on outline layouts only, ' says Khan.

'We hadn't done any detailed design, ' adds Richardson. 'The contractors basically had to draw up a shopping list, ' he says.

'We expected to need different contractors on each section because it all had to be built simultaneously, but in the end one contractor, Wade Adams, won all of the work.' The new link will run east to west for 5km as a three lane carriageway. Four grade separated interchanges will enable traffic to join or leave the road from the four streets that it bisects.

The challenging timescale has proved to be just too ambitious.

Although planning requirements are nothing like as intensive as those in the UK, it still took time to buy land. 'We couldn't know what had to be expropriated until detailed design was done in March, ' says Richardson. Buying people out ended up taking six months - much longer than expected - although he adds: 'Most people were quite happy to move. The government gives generous compensation.' Racing against the clock, completion of the link road was due as NCEI went to press, meaning that the 5km road with four grade separated interchanges has taken only a year to design and construct.

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