GROWING PAINS

UAE, Sharjah 2017 | TRANSPORT | FOCUS: CONGESTION REDUCTION

Sharjah is looking to reduce road traffic congestion as evidenced by several initiatives to target the multi-faceted problem.

This year's Sharjah Business Summit focused on innovation within transport and logistics in Sharjah, highlighting the Emirate's status as a growing trade hub with its strategically located sea ports, international airport, and top-rated road quality. Growing trade demand will require greater connectivity between Emirates—and will require more congestion-busting strategies.

The Sharjah-Dubai commuter corridor is only a few kilometers long, but the road is one of the most congested in the UAE. The Dubai Road and Transport Authority estimated a loss of USD790 million in time and fuel due to traffic congestion in 2013. Many commuters come from Sharjah, and the number of professionals commuting to and from Dubai is increasing. The Dubai Statistics Center estimated 1,073,845 workers from outside the Emirate and temporary residents contributed to the active population during peak hours, and this population segment increased to 1,098,520 people in 2015, making the above estimated economic loss due to congestion a significant underestimation

Sharjah is responding to these figures by implementing a multi-pronged strategy to alleviate this seemingly simple problem. The most obvious solution is to widen the Sharjah-Dubai corridor to alleviate the bottleneck. The UAE Ministry of Infrastructure Development is managing 12 national projects, including the expansion of the Al Badi Bridge in Sharjah for AED200 million (USD54.4 million). The expansion is comprised of three parts. The first component is an additional three-lane bridge in the Sharjah-bound direction, which will exit directly to University City. In the opposite direction, the exit road is also being widened to three lanes. Lastly, another intersection along the bridge will be expanded from three to seven lanes. The ministry expects the project to be completed by the end of 2017.

While widening the road will alleviate congestion, this solution alone will not reduce the total number of cars or the secondary problems caused by congestion, such as harmful environmental effects. Sharjah is also trying to promote the increased use of public transport. In 2016, data from the Sharjah Road and Transport Authority (RTA) indicated a 6.4% increase in inter-city bus riders between Sharjah and Dubai compared to the previous year. The RTA's Public Transport Agency added stops along the route in Sharjah, “in a bid to ease the picking-up of commuters residing in areas nearby the routes of the buses on their way to Dubai," as explained by the Public Transport Agency's Director of Buses, Basil Ibrahim Saad.

Another option for increasing public transport ridership is extending the Dubai Metro line into the center of Sharjah. The most recent budget approved by the Department of Finance included a 7% increase for infrastructure spending, which accounted for 30% of the nearly USD6 billion overall budget, indicating a national priority on infrastructure. The growing appetite for public private partnerships in the development of transport infrastructure is expected to play a role in these strategies going forward

Furthermore, Sharjah is taking steps to address road safety. Improving road safety will not only limit the number of accidents and related fatalities, but will also improve traffic flow. In 2016, 130 people died as a result of vehicle accidents. This figure decreased from 157 deaths in 2015, and Sharjah is continuing to address the issue. In May 2017, Sharjah installed 30 smart road radars that detect tailgaters and speeding vehicles. Using 3G technology, the radars send data directly to the Traffic Department.

Through a combination of improving safety, promoting public transport, and enhancing transportation infrastructure, Sharjah is tackling congestion—the troublesome growing pain of growing as a commercial hub.