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Sat 24 Oct 2009 04:00 AM

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Highway to happiness

How the Sheikh Khalifa Bridge and accompanying Saadiyat-Shahama highway were delivered on time.

Highway to happiness
(Rajesh Raghav/ITP Images)
Highway to happiness
The highway stretches over the Sheikh Khalifa Bridge, before traversing across Saadiyat and Yas Islands and joining up with E11 to Dubai. (Rajesh Raghav/ITP Images)
Highway to happiness
The 1.4km bridge can hold 10 lanes of traffic and took 30 months to construct. (Rajesh Raghav/ITP Images)
Highway to happiness
Aldar Properties was responsible for constructing 23m of the Saadiyat-Shahama highway plus a further 18km of interchange ramps. (Rajesh Raghav/ITP Images)

The Sheikh Khalifa Bridge and accompanying Saadiyat-Shahama highway were delivered at the start of October. CW takes a look at how the project was delivered on time.

Anyone who regularly travels down the UAE’s E11 highway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi knows that the drive can be awful – in both senses of the word. While navigating among some of the more erratic drivers can be a little nerve-racking, there is the sight of the

HQ, Al Raha Beach, Yas and Saadiyat Islands, which inspire awe even if you’ve become jaded by the megaprojects in the Emirates.

However, the opening of the bridge at Saadiyat, and the Saadiyat-Shahama highway on October 14th, means the journey is now a little less stressful, and just as amazing.

Starting from Port Zayed in Abu Dhabi, the highway stretches over the now-named Sheikh Khalifa Bridge, before traversing 27km across Saadiyat Island and Yas Island and joining back up with E11 to Dubai.

The bridge marks the first time Saadiyat Island has been joined to Abu Dhabi and provides a crucial connection for the Tourism Development and Investment Council (TDIC) and its plans for the islands. Saadiyat will provide a cultural destination for tourists and residents in Abu Dhabi, while Yas Island will provide leisure and entertainment, including the Ferrari World theme park and Formula One.

Construction on the bridge began in December 2006 and saw more than 7.5 million man hours put in to ensure the project was completed on schedule.

A joint venture between Zublin – Saif Bin Darwish used approximately 15,000 tonnes of asphalt and 15,500 tonnes of reinforcement steel to build the 1.4km bridge, which can hold 10 lanes of traffic. Construction took 30 months.

Keeping to the schedule of the project was vital, explains Zublin project manager Holger Schmidt. “It was very important to deliver the project on time because the bridge was needed for the Formula One Grand Prix. Otherwise people coming to the event from Abu Dhabi would have to drive to the airport and back up to Yas Island.”

Meeting this challenge required careful preparation and the corralling of international expertise. “We prepared all our internal systems to make sure we could deliver on time,” says Schmidt. “Also we brought many experts from Germany to work hard on this project. We had around 25 to 30 people from Germany here at one stage.”

Working on form

An important element in ensuring the Sheikh Khalifa Bridge was delivered on time, was the formwork. RJR Formwork supplied a flexible system that has been tried and tested elsewhere in the UAE and has proven particularly effective for bridge construction.

RJR provided a system that could be moved along the bridge without dismantling, creating a considerable saving both in terms of time and manpower required.

“We were able to move the system three times without dismantling it, which offered considerable advantages over traditional systems. They’ve used the system very successfully,” says managing director Roger Ratcliffe.

He estimates that the RJR system greatly reduced the need for manpower on site and helped the project be delivered on time.

“If you’ve lots of repetition you don’t need to keep taking it up and down, you can move the whole system as a big chunk,” he says. “The fact is you’re saving time by moving the system. You’d need at least two or three times the volume of equipment just for moving a standard system. I’d say with our system they saved 30% of the time required. There’s also not the same high labour element required.”

Road to success

Accompanying the bridge is the Saadiyat-Shahama highway, which will provide the main artery for traffic heading towards the two islands under development by the TDIC.

The highway provides an effective shortcut between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, allowing travellers to easily reach the corniche while avoiding the traffic in downtown Abu Dhabi. An unofficial assessment by CW suggests that the new highway shaves a good 20 to 30 minutes off the journey time between the two cities.

Creating a new highway has been an important part of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, the strategic plan that provides a road map for development for the city and its environs for the next 20 years. The plan was the key guideline framework for the development of the newly inaugurated Sheikh Khalifa Bridge.

“Projects such as this that address both the immediate and future needs of the people stand a better chance of being recognised as a valuable contribution to the nation building process,” said

chairman Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh at the inauguration of Sheikh Khalifa Bridge.

Part of this anticipation of “future needs” was the provision for alternative transport systems. A light rail transit (LRT) bridge has also been constructed to allow a future railway to link Yas Island and Abu Dhabi.

Taking responsibility


were responsible for 23m of the highway, plus a further 18km of interchange ramps and freeway improvements. As a result, 22 highway bridges, 17 exits and four underpasses came under the developer’s remit.

In addition,

was responsible the main interchange and surrounding highway for Yas Island,

’s leisure and entertainment destination development and location of Yas Marina Circuit, the venue for the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.


’s portion of the project was split into a further two packages. Six Construct handled the construction of the Yas Island section of the highway and the interchange with the Abu Dhabi-Dubai road, while Taisei Corporation handled the responsibilities for building the bridge and roads from Yas Island to Saadiyat Island.

Both sections were subcontracted to Al Jaber Construction, which appears to be doing well out of the building boom on Saadiyat. The firm also has won the contracts for the Saadiyat Beach Residences and Saadiyat Beach Hotel.

Meanwhile, the construction of the actual road on Saadiyat was covered by Gulf Leighton Contracting Abu Dhabi, following the designs of US firm Parsons. As part of this construction, a 180m wide land bridge was built to link Saadiyat to Yas. In anticipation of future residents and out of respect for the natural landscape, the land bridge was built by using a trough contour, making it less visible and quieter.

Along the Saadiyat section, 650 palm trees have been planted, along with 500,000 other plants, 10,000m³ of stone and 26,000m³ of sand. Construction took 24 months to complete.

With the bridge and highway now officially open, a vital element of both the Saadiyat Island and Yas Island projects can now be crossed off the list.

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