Municipality of Abu Dhabi: Moving with the Times, Whilst Mindful of the Past

June 18, 2013 in Infrastructure

Over the last three decades the United Arab Emirates has undergone radical change as it developed into a global centre for commerce and opportunity. Managing the pace, quality and sustainability of its growth, has put an enormous onus on local government. At the Municipality of Abu Dhabi, it is a role that has been accepted with enthusiasm and an eye for creating a modern emirate, without losing sight of its culture and history.

It is the capital of the UAE and is the largest emirate by area as well as the second-largest by population after Dubai, accounting for approximately 86 per cent of the total land area of the UAE. The seat of the President of the United Arab Emirates is located in Abu Dhabi city, which also hosts many oil companies, foreign embassies and the federal cabinet.

The emirate’s main revenues are from industry, construction and financial services which in 2008 resulted in the emirate’s US$187 billion economy.

It is believed that parts of Abu Dhabi were settled as far back as the 3rd millennium BC and its early history fits the nomadic herding and fishing pattern typical of the broader region.

abu-dubaiA significant part in the emirate’s history came after Sheikh Shakhbut Bin-Sultan Al Nahyan granted petroleum concessions in 1939, and oil was first discovered in 1958. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, realised that oil had the potential to transform Abu Dhabi. The ruling Al Nahyan family decided that Sheikh Zayed should replace his brother as ruler and carry out his vision of developing the country.

With the announcement by the UK in 1968 that it would withdraw from the Persian Gulf area by 1971, Sheikh Zayed became the main driving force behind the formation of the United Arab Emirates.

After the Emirates gained independence in 1971, oil wealth continued to flow to the area and traditional mud-brick huts were rapidly replaced with banks, boutiques and modern high rises, laying the foundations for the modern day Abu Dhabi.

Subsequent years have seen the UAE experience almost unsurpassed development and prosperity, recording comprehensive growth across all sectors, thanks to the wise and far-sighted visionary leadership of its rulers. They have set forward a goal of sustainable growth, by decreeing that infrastructure of the highest standard is to be put in place to anticipate and drive future developments.

The history of local government has adapted over time in recognition of the continued growth of the emirate and the challenges that this has presented. The Municipality of Abu Dhabi City was established in 1962 as the “Department of Abu Dhabi Municipality and Town Planning”. In 1969, a royal decree was issued to appoint the first municipal board for the city of Abu Dhabi, with the task of providing comprehensive services to the public and ensure proper planning of the developing city, with regularized road networks, maintenance services, sewerage, lighting works, launching the Agriculture Development Plan in the Emirate and establishing public markets in various areas.

In 2005 the decision was taken to merge the Municipality of Abu Dhabi City, Al Ain Municipality, Works Department, Agriculture and Animal Production Department of Al Ain into the Department of Municipalities and Agriculture, to create a streamlined administration and to provide a higher standard of service as the emirate continued to grow.

Two years later, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, issued a law establishing the Department of Municipal Affairs as an umbrella body overseeing the three administratively independent municipalities, the Municipality of Abu Dhabi City, Al Ain Municipality and Western Region Municipality.

Since then, the Municipality of Abu Dhabi City has developed its own set of key objectives, including a number of major projects which aim to deliver modern infrastructure for the city including bridges, drainage systems, road networks, modern means of transportation, consolidation of comprehensive development projects.

Another key part to the municipality’s remit is to create an ideal living environment for city residents, with unmatched quality of life and modern amenities.

Amongst the many recent initiatives undertaken by the municipality, work began in May 2013 on the AED 396 million construction of various infrastructure projects at Khalifa City A. The scope of the work was broad, including upgrades to public parks, drainage networks, pumping stations and street lighting works.

At the time of writing, it was reported that the project, located roughly 30 kilometres from Abu Dhabi, was approximately 80 per cent completed, with around 793,000 metres of pavements built and in excess of 67,000 metres of stormwater pipes laid, alongside 2,646 manholes and 493 inspection chambers.

The municipality says that the new works programme will see three new pumping stations added and widespread street lighting installed, which will involve erecting more than 3,000 poles and installing 116,000 metres of cabling.

Khalifa City has three existing public parks, but the municipality is contemplating the construction of four more, as part of the improvement works being undertaken “to keep pace with the demographic growth in the City”.

Another important project for the municipality has been the Mohammed Bin Zayed City Project, located between the Central Business District and the airport. The project, to build a city that will include 349 high rise towers, with facility services and a modern, advanced network of infrastructure.

This development, upon completion, represents a gross built area of approximately 5.8 million square meters with related infrastructure, landscaping and community amenities to house a population of about 85,000.

Last December the municipality celebrated the opening of the Sheikh Zayed Road and Tunnel. The official unveiling was the culmination of 5 years and over Dh3 billion of investment to create the 4.2 kilometre Salam Street tunnel.

Commenting on the opening, Abdullah Al Shamsi, executive director of infrastructure and municipal assets sector at the Abu Dhabi Municipality, said: “We expect the journey time between Sheikh Zayed Bridge to Mina Road or the Corniche and back to be 20 minutes.”

The tunnel stretches from Delma Street, at the Sea Palace junction, up to the Corniche and Mina Road. The covered section of the tunnel runs for 2.4 kilometres, while the open section covers 1.8 kilometres.

With four lanes and a hard shoulder down Salam Street, three lanes and a shoulder down Mina Road, and two lanes at the entrance and exit points of the tunnel to and from the Corniche, the roadway promises to cut through numerous traffic jams allowing motorists to drive from the Sheikh Zayed Bridge to the Mina area with dramatically reduced drive time.

“There will be less waiting time and delays and a big reduction in gas emissions,” said Majed Al Kathiry, head of traffic services section at the municipality and head of the operations and maintenance team for the project. “It will segregate traffic and movement between the city centre and Salam Street.”

“It’s a very big project and we’re proud that we’ve completed it. The entire 14km Salam project has the most advanced tunnel system in the Middle East,” he added.

The tunnel is the most expensive, and biggest, of the four-phase project. It costs Dh3.1 billion, while the entire redevelopment project cost Dh4.8billion, he said.

This May the municipality announced its intention to develop “The Traditional Souq” project through the private sector and based on BOT investment framework. The project is located in front of Abu Dhabi Al Maqtaa Fort and will comprise of a traditional souq, F&B, retail, leisure, entertainment and hospitality components (boutique hotel) with a total GFA of 150,000 square metres. The project will once again demonstrate the municipality’s willingness to move with the times whilst preserving Abu Dhabi’s traditions.