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French Version

Dubai's transport system gets $10 billion upgrade

Authorities in the booming Gulf emirate of Dubai are pouring more than $10 billion into building a metro and expanding road networks in a bid to tackle choking transport problems. Virtually no neighborhood in this city state of 1.2 million people is immune from orange cones alerting motorists to detours as giant drills, cement mixers, cranes and armies of Asian immigrants work day and night on executing Dubai's never-ending expansion plans.

But authorities led by Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum have recognized that if Dubai is to become the world-class capital it seeks to be, the towers and real estate projects jutting out of land and sea at break-neck speed need to be matched by an adequate transport system.

"Transport and traffic may be a challenge, but we are working on it," said Sheikh Mohammad recently.

He created in November the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), a body coordinating Dubai's transport projects that reports directly to him.

One of its centerpieces is a $3.4 billion metro project that aims to carry 1.2 million passengers per day.

Work on the project, which was awarded in May to a consortium led by Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, has already started with the first phase expected to be completed in September 2009.

The 70-kilometer long rail link will consist of two lines with one snaking around the city's creek and the other linking the airport to the bustling free-trade zone of Jebel Ali, some 40 kilometers from Dubai's center.

Most of the metro system will be above ground and all carriages will be air-conditioned to cope with the emirate's sweltering summers, when temperatures can exceed 50 degrees Celsius.

Some carriages will be reserved for first class passengers and women in keeping with the emirate's Muslim traditions.

But more than a metro is needed for a city with a population growing at an annual rate of 6 percent and the ambition to attract 40 million visitors a year by 2015, eight times the current five million.

At present there are more than a million cars on the roads of Dubai, of whose 1.2 million population 80 percent are expatriates.

The main challenges are a growth rate surpassing what its infrastructure can handle and a situation where the busiest commercial districts are far from areas of affordable housing, said an engineer involved in construction projects.

"Traffic has gotten worse in the past two years and it is a major source of stress," said Lebanese expatriate Wissam Fighali, 25.

He says he spends almost four hours each day traveling to and from work in Jebel Ali, where tens of thousands of people are employed.

For Palestinian Hind Amer the metro will not be a solution given the high temperatures in Dubai during the majority of the year.

"There is no way I will give up my car," she said.

The RTA's director Mattar al-Tayer said Dubai plans to spend nearly $7 billion in the coming years on transport projects apart from the metro.

These include adding three more crossings to the existing tunnel and two bridges spanning the creek, upgrading and expanding the bus network, starting a water transport network and adding double-deck roads to busy arteries.

He recognized the inconvenience and quality-of-life issues that all the construction and road works may mean for the city's residents while touting what he described as Dubai's many advantages.

"There are other things that can compensate like safety, security, the nice weather, the luxury hotels and the shopping centers," Tayer told AFP in a recent interview.

Dubai,03 06 2006
The Daily Star
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