In 2009, when Abu Dhabi announced plans to spend nearly $68bn on transport projects, the emirate seemed impervious to the financial crisis rocking the world.
An array of transport schemes were planned, including metro, tram and bus networks, and water transportation along the coastline. Much of that was predicated on assumptions of population growth that now appear optimistic. As those assumptions are now revised, the scale of projects now has to be downsized.
For a region where big is beautiful and cities have often tried to outdo each other, in terms of signature developments, cutting the budget on Abu Dhabi’s planned transport schemes will be a bitter pill to swallow, but a necessary one.
Over-optimistic traffic assumptions are one of several reasons why the Mafraq-Ghweifat project seems to have failed as a public-private partnership. Scaling back transport projects in Abu Dhabi will make them easier to finance and develop, and should help avoid further embarrassments, such as Mafraq-Ghweifat. Once projects are of a more achievable scale they will attract more bids, the process will become more competitive and Abu Dhabi will get better value for money.
Projects also need to be prioritised so sensible and affordable schemes necessary for Abu Dhabi’s economy to function and expand happen first and fast. So far, there has been little sign of that actually occurring. Core oil, gas and power projects have continued to move ahead, while developments outside of this have generally lagged behind. Lack of progress on real-estate schemes and industrial diversification projects also have a knock-on effect on transport schemes, which often need to be developed with other infrastructure to justify their existence.
Ultimately, developing the kind of transport system envisaged by the Department of Transport will help move people around the emirate in an efficient and sustainable way. That can only be a good thing, even if the eventual delivery is not as grand as originally hoped.