Abu Dhabi: Crosstown traffic

With route map How do the new tunnels in Abu Dhabi affect driving times? The National drives on five routes.

Has traffic flow across Abu Dhabi improved?
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Red route: Delma Street and Sea Palace junction via Sheikh Zayed Tunnel, to Sheraton Corniche

Distance 4.2 kilometres
Speed limit 80kph, except for the exit points to the Corniche/Port, which are 60kph
Drive time 5 minutes using the tunnel (5.20pm to 5.25pm), 9 minutes using the surface road (12.43pm to 12.52pm)

The new Salam Street Tunnel, recently renamed Sheikh Zayed Tunnel, has eased traffic and improved congestion along the route since it opened last week.

The 2.4-kilometre tunnel stretches from Delma Street, at the Sea Palace junction, up to the Corniche and Mina Zayed. The covered section of the tunnel runs for 2.4km, while the open section covers 1.8km. Salam Street, where the project is located, has also been renamed Sheikh Zayed Street.

The drive to the Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel and Resort on the Corniche at 5.20pm this week took five minutes.

The journey through the tunnel was smooth. Drivers do not pass through traffic signals up to the Corniche and Mina Zayed. Some cars were exceeding the 80kph limit.

There are signs showing the speed limit in both directions, including at the exit point to the Corniche and Mina, where it is 60kph.

Before the Sheikh Zayed Tunnel opened to the public on December 5, it could take 35 to 40 minutes along the route to reach the Corniche during rush hour, said Mozammal Hoque, 48, a Bangladeshi taxi driver. "Now, it takes me less than five minutes," he said.

Overhead electronic sign boards in English and Arabic direct drivers to "keep left" for the Corniche side and "keep right" for the Mina Zayed side.

The tunnel segregates local traffic or "surface traffic" and traffic crossing into the Mina area and the Corniche and back.

Before entering the tunnel, a sign directs vehicles to exit to Reem Island and Sheikh Zayed Street to the right. Driving on the surface road from Defence Road along Sheikh Zayed Street (Salam Street) to the Corniche took nine minutes.

To reach the Corniche on surface streets, drivers pass through six traffic signals at the junctions of Salam and Defense Road, Al Falah Street, opposite Abu Dhabi Municipality, Electra Street and Hamdan Street.

The drive back to Delma Street from the Sheraton using the Sheikh Zayed Tunnel took another five minutes.

"Since 2008, the number of vehicles in Abu Dhabi has gone up," said Mohammed Aouf, 31, an Egyptian engineer in Abu Dhabi. "The tunnel has solved many problems."

It used to take him about 45 minutes to get near Corniche Hospital from his home in Khalifa City A. But with the opening of the Sheikh Zayed Tunnel, the drive is now about 30 minutes during rush hour and 20 minutes at off-peak hours.

"The tunnel gives you so many options to travel around the city," he said. "It would help if authorities provide traffic updates on electronic signboards to warn drivers of the traffic situation ahead."

* Ramona Ruiz

Light blue route: Etihad Tunnel to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, via Bainunah Street, Sultan bin Zayed Street and Khaleej Al Arabi

Distance 18 kilometres
Speed limit 40kph in Etihad Tunnel and Bainunah Tunnel, 60kph on Bainunah Street (34th street) and Sultan bin Zayed Street (32nd street), 100kph on Khaleej Al Arabi Street (30th Street)
Drive time 20 minutes (5.38pm to 5.58pm)

Traffic congestion has eased since the Etihad and Bainunah tunnels opened last month.

The drive from the entrance of the 240-metre Etihad Tunnel, which connects traffic from the Corniche to Etihad Towers on Bainunah Street, to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, took 20 minutes.

The 18-kilometre trip went through the Bainunah Tunnel at the junction of Bainunah (34th street), Sultan bin Zayed Street (32nd street) and Hazza Bin Zayed Street (11th street).

It discharges traffic from Bainunah to outside the island, and has reduced congestion in the Ras Al Akhdar and Al Bateen areas.

Four roundabouts were replaced by junctions with signals to make the area safer and cut congestion.

There are several signals starting from the junction of Sultan bin Zayed Street (32nd street) and Electra Street (7th street) to Al Saada Street (19th street).

From Khaleej Al Arabi (30th street), where the speed limit is 100kph, one takes a right turn towards the bridge that leads to the Armed Forces Officers Club, directly opposite the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. A sign near the roundabout directs motorists to the mosque.

The Etihad Tunnel allows a smooth drive to work, said an employee at Etihad Towers.

"While the tunnel was being built, it was inconvenient for guests and staff to drive to the hotel," she said. "Now, it's hassle-free."

From the Corniche Road, motorists need to continue driving straight until they see an overhead sign reading "Etihad Towers" and then enter the Etihad Tunnel.

Those who wish to visit Etihad Towers need to take the first right after the tunnel, take a right on the mini roundabout and drive up to the hotel's main entrance.

* Ramona Ruiz

Dark blue route Marina Mall to Corniche Hospital, via Corniche

Distance 10.6 kilometres
Average speed 36.9kph eastbound, 8.14kph westbound)
Drive time 21.46 minutes (5.30pm to 5.51pm)

The opening of the Sheikh Zayed Tunnel has speeded some journeys through the city but increased congestion in other places.

Many motorists have complained about backlogs on the Corniche. Much depends on which direction you are travelling.

The Corniche traffic was relatively light when a taxi driver left Marina Mall at 5.30pm. He stopped at two out of seven traffic signals.

Problems started as he approached the Tourist Club area. East-bound traffic was fine. The opposite lane was blocked with rush-hour traffic from the Sheikh Zayed Tunnel.

"Now at any time there is traffic on Corniche road," said the driver. "Today's Sunday, see? Same [as] National Day. " He reached the front doors of Corniche Hospital in 21 minutes, 46 seconds. At a distance of 10.2 kilometres that is an average speed of 27.3kph: more than acceptable for an in-city journey. Parking would take longer.

Driving west from Corniche Hospital was more challenging. A 2.5-kilometre trip from the hospital to the National Bank of Abu Dhabi on Muroor Road took 11 minutes - an average speed of 8.14 kph.

The Corniche was gridlocked and cars blared their horns.

"Anytime there is a left U-turn, the traffic is coming," said the driver. "Before this was not like that. Haha, see? No chance.

"See, this traffic is completely from the tunnel. Before it not was like that."

The taxi driver explained that it would take time before motorists mastered the new tunnel routes.

"Driver passes into the tunnel, khalas [he's finished]. Any place he cannot come back. No exit."

* Anna Zacharias

Green route Downtown to Reem Island

Distance 6.6 kilometres
Average speed 36kph
Drive time 11 minutes

Reem Island is one of the newest neighbourhoods in Abu Dhabi and this comes with pros and cons.

The island's new, wide roads are still clear of the traffic that plagues city-centre residential areas, but ongoing construction can cause problems.

Located east of the main island, Reem Island's residents also have the benefit of being close to the city centre without the battle for parking that high-rise residents in older neighbourhoods face.

"Maximum 10 minutes," said a taxi driver when asked how long from Abu Dhabi Media to Reem. It was a good estimate. The 6.6-kilometre trip took 11 minutes at an average speed of 36kph. It was 6pm, a time when much of the city gets stalled in heavy traffic.

The commute may not always be this quick. The island is served by a one-way bridge from Sowwah Island and Al Maryah and the main bridge from 11th and Sheikh Zayed Road. The Surouh Real Estate Sun and

Sky towers have 1,150 apartments and there are 3,400 flats in Marina Square. The island is also home to the Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi.

Roads will become busier as residential and commercial developments fill the island.

One of Dubai's leading private schools, Repton School, will open a campus there in 2013.

Thousands of new residents are expected to move to Reem Island when the 3,500-apartment Sorouh Gate Towers opens early next year. Tamouh and Reem investments will complete eight of their 13 towers next year.

Bus service to the island has been delayed because of construction.

* Anna Zacharias

Yellow route Front gates of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Hamdan, via Muroor Road

Distance 16.3 kilometres
Average speed 37.6kph by night, 30kph by day
Drive time 26 minutes (departure 6pm), 33 minutes (departure 11.19am)

Muroor Road will be the spine of Abu Dhabi's land transport network by 2020. The metro will run down it from Zayed Sports City and veer left on Khalifa Street towards its final station at Mina Zayed.

It will intersect a rapid-transit bus loop on Electra Street and Najda Street and a light rail tram line on Defense Road and Electra Street that will connect passengers to Saadiyat and Reem islands, and to Marina Mall.

Currently, Muroor Road is a fast route down the length of the island that is free from construction.

During a taxi ride, the car stopped at four red lights. Congestion began near the commercial areas around the Corniche.

The 16.3-kilometre route took 26 minutes, an average speed of 37.6kph.

A second trip at midday took 33 minutes because of heavier traffic.

* Anna Zacharias