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Mon 4 Apr 2011 12:00 AM

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Building bridges

From Sheikh Zayed Bridge to the mooted Qatar-Bahrain causeway

Building bridges
Building bridges

The astonishing infrastructure spend underway in Saudi Arabia
at the moment includes 30 bridge projects in its 2011 municipal budget. Yes,
bridges are big business in the region at the moment – not only connecting
disparate areas, but helping to transform infrastructure.

Driving over the Sheikh Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi for the
first time was an awesome experience – not only for the remarkable lack of
traffic, but for how the structure seems to unfold as you approach it, with the
sand-dune shaped arches undulating and seemingly changing shape the closer you
get to it. The bridge is equally impressive at night, proving just how
important and effective a well-designed lighting system is for such structures.

Bridges are often landmark projects signifying national
pride and identity. In this regard it is interesting to note that one of the
major bridge projects announced in the region of late is the $906million,
2.2km-long bridge planned to connect Qeshm
Island in the Persian Gulf to mainland
has been much on our minds of late, having taken a rather bizarre territorial
stance on the UAE’s Palm island projects.

Another bridge project with important national overtones is
the 40km causeway linking Qatar
and Bahrain,
a critical project in terms of the former hosting the 2022 FIFA Soccer World
Cup. It is unlikely that the social unrest that swept Bahrain
recently will scupper the causeway, due to its economic importance. Maybe such
a high-profile project can be used to deepen the ties between Bahrain and Qatar going forward.

In Dubai
in particular, there seems to be a remarkable quantity of road and bridge
bits-and-bobs scattered all about. Pedestrians here, where walking seems akin
to an exotic sports activity,
are well-versed in dodging construction debris and unmarked holes in the
ground, and navigating poorly-designed public access routes, which are often
known to end abruptly in the middle of traffic.

Strangely enough, there are also many examples of unfinished
bridges around the world. These include the Bridge to Nowhere in Glasgow, referring to two
unfinished structures over the M8 motorway. Then there is the abandoned
elevated freeway bridge in the middle of Cape Town
in South Africa,
conceived in the 1960s and then abandoned for good in 1977 when the developer
seemingly lost track.

Bridges have come a long way since the stone arch structures
so beloved by the Romans. When steel became commercially available as a
construction material in the 19th century, the possibilities for bridge design
took a quantum leap, culminating in the astonishing arches of Zaha Hadid. From Sheikh Zayed
Bridge to the planned
Qatar-Bahrain causeway, bridges are an essential part of infrastructure. While
their design and construction challenge engineers and contractors, the end
result is a critical economic stimulus that also often improves the quality of
the urban environment.

Gerhard Hope, is the editor of Construction Week.

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