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Sat 19 Nov 2016 10:47 AM

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How to solve the Dubai-Sharjah congestion dilemma

The country’s impending public-private partnership legislation creates a ripe environment for third parties to fix the traffic headache.

How to solve the Dubai-Sharjah congestion dilemma

When the UAE implements its framework for public-private partnerships, as announced earlier this month, there will be a list of potential projects up for grabs. But none is more urgent than the commuter corridor between Dubai and Sharjah.

Conspicuously neglected, Al Ittihad Road is arguably the worst bottleneck in the country, if not the region. The three-lane highway is guaranteed to turn into a car park — a slow moving one at best — every weekday afternoon.

The daily traffic jams cost commuters hours of lost time every week, while the cost to business and the economy would no doubt tally into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Despite recent additions, such as slip roads and roundabouts that are supposed to ease traffic flow to other routes connecting the emirates, traffic remains backed up. It is enough to make anyone dread travelling the route during particular times of the day.

Why commuters’ persistent complaining about the issue has not been adequately addressed is a mystery, particularly while other state-of-the-art transport options, including a yet-to-be-proven Hyperloop system, are being pursued.

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) revealed in February last year that congestion on its roads cost the economy $790m in wasted fuel and time in 2013. The population of Dubai has since grown by about 300,000 people, or 10 percent, and is expected to add another 1 million people by 2020, adding additional pressure on the already strained road network.

While the Dubai-Sharjah road is only a few kilometres of the total road network, it is arguably the most congested by a long shot, and one of the most important commuter corridors, linking residents, workers and trade between both emirates.

Unfortunately, no one has analysed — at least publicly — the positive impact improving efficiency on this strip would cost, but it is easy to determine in general. Property prices in Sharjah would inevitably go up — tens of thousands of people who work in Dubai opt to live across the border where rent can be half the cost.

Reducing fuel waste would not only have an economic impact (the government still heavily subsidises petrol) but also speed up the UAE’s target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The benefits to individual commuters — more time with their family or to play sport or to spend at restaurants and other leisure activities — also would be immeasurable. It would be a sure-fire boost to Dubai’s efforts to become the world’s ‘happiest city’.

Widening the road could significantly alleviate congestion, but this is a stop-gap measure and could have the adverse effect of encouraging more people to drive. The best option is to extend the Dubai Metro into the centre of Sharjah.

The recently announced Route 2020 extension project linking Jebel Ali to the World Expo site is billed to cost $2.5bn, including 15km of new track and 50 new trains (15 of which would be used for the new section). The RTA has not publicly broken down the cost of the extension and required trains alone, but on a conservative calculation, extending the metro to Sharjah would cost less than $2bn.

Such a deal would require both emirates’ agreement, and Dubai could argue that given almost all of the extension would be within Sharjah, that emirate should stump up the majority of the cost. Does Sharjah have the funds or see the value in such a proposition? Perhaps not, which may be why the link does not yet exist. Thus, this is a perfect case for the federal government to step in. The UAE government could divert some of the money saved from the stalled heavy railway network or alternatively, and perhaps this is the smartest route, the project could go out to tender as a public-private partnership (PPP).

The catch is that few rail public transport systems have ever made a profit. To make such a project financially attractive to the private sector, ticket prices would likely be two, three, even four times higher than those on the rest of the Dubai Metro network.

Still, there is an opportunity for a private investor to study feasible solutions to one of the most pressing concerns in the UAE.


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Mathew Daniel 3 years ago

Having a metro line that runs from Abu Dhabi to Ras Al Khaimah passing through Jebel Ali, Bur Dubai, Deira, Sharjah, Ajman and Umm al Quwain will help solve the acute traffic congestion faced by motorists.

Victory Red 3 years ago

RTA have some real issues to deal with. Pretty much anywhere you go between 4pm-7.30pm the roads across Dubai are stuffed with traffic.

A case in point - a 12 minute journey from JLT to Sports City now regularly takes 35 minutes during this time. The problem can only get worse for anyone living in this area (including JVC & Ranches) as more and more towers are opening up.

Yep - the trip to Sharjah is horrific but there are plenty of others not enjoying the congested roads too.

It seems the connectors between SZR, SMBZR & Emirates Road are simply not sufficient - often only a one or two lane exit or entry slip road to cope with the 1,000's cars trying to pass through.

It would also help to have increased police presence on all major junctions during both rush-hours. The quality of driving is pretty terrible generally with an epidemic of cars pushing in from 3 lanes away to make an exit - saves them time but slows the traffic generally.

Plenty to think about!

ifthikhar an 3 years ago

Important issue.
As a daily commuter, even though I live right on the border- Al Nahda, all the roads are hell-like experience from Sharjah to Dubai in the morning and back to Sharjah from 3PM. But no one listens.
If its normal traffic situations, I will reach from Sahara centre area to Deira city centre area within 8 to 12 minutes. but in the peak hours, its minimum 50 minutes to 1:15hrs!

Zeek 3 years ago

That is crazy, it takes me 1hr 5/10 minutes to get from Abu Dhabi to DIFC, a whole 129km away.

A Thomas 3 years ago

There must be proper 2nd lane to exit / enter Al Nadha, Al Khan and the next Sharjah City Centre flyovers. If you are on the Dubai - Sharjah road, if you take any of the above exits, you can see they have painted two lanes, but in reality there is only one lane for the exiting traffic to merge with the oncoming traffic at the top of the flyover. This is creating bottleneck all the way to Al Mulla Plaza.

JRH 3 years ago

There has been a noticeable increase in traffic in the last 6 months on my morning route from Ranches to DIFC.

The connecting routes of Al Ain and Umm Seqeim Road are absolutely jam packed between 7-9am whereas previously they were pretty clear unless there was an accident.

Again this is down to new developments going live but without the updated infrastructure to cope.

A huge amount could be achieved by updating the single lane exits on major thoroughfares as this is what causes a lot of the problems. Exit 42 on SMBZ is a disaster that could easily be fixed.

SJP 3 years ago

If the government allows a metro line from Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah then , what would happen is that the journey time would be reduced, but then who would want to live in Dubai where the rents are 3 to 4 times the cost of living in other emirates. And this is exactly the reason why this would never happen. It may not affect the rich or the upper middle class but the people who have salaries that just reach 5 figures would gladly move out of Dubai to increase their savings if the time taken to work would be the same. And this would affect the housing situation in Dubai and I don't know of any government that would contribute to their own rents and income decreasing willingly.

Graham Thomson 3 years ago

One has to encounter at least one Salik gate to enter Sharjah on the Ettihad road. Say there are 500,000 vehicles using this route daily the revenue is 2Mn Dhs/day. Why not divert some of this revenue to prevent drivers having to endure these hellish traffic delays?

Adil 3 years ago

Having an Secondary road through Mamzar area will help reduce the traffic as the entire area is having one exit towards Sharjah and thats from Al Ittihad Road which creates a Bottle neck

Fentoni 3 years ago

The issue is the weather in the summer. In cooler climates you would get a fast catamaran to pick commuters up from near Sharjah aquarium and take them down Dubai creek to another dock at Al Asayal street in Downtown Dubai. The 'fast cat' does 45 knots (83 km/h) and holds 900 passengers. The trip would take circa 30 mins, another 15 mins each way to load and unload. Buses using dedicated lanes on the D71 could then take the passengers onto Dubai mall and DIFC 15 - 20 mins away.