Lorry drivers going slow in the fast lane

A new diversion, set up to speed the flow of lorries on to Sheikh Khalifa Bridge and away from the city core, is instead causing huge delays.

ABU DHABI // A plan to divert lorries away from the city core and along Saadiyat and Yas islands will work, drivers say - if they could just get onto the 10-lane motorway. New signal timings at the Mina Zayed gate have caused massive queues for lorry drivers, who say they are waiting for up to an hour to leave the port area.

The traffic signals that control the vehicle flow into the industrial port near the junction of the Corniche and Sheikh Khalifa Bridge were changed this weekend as the municipality began to divert lorries weighing more than 2.5 tonnes. The lorry drivers said the signal that allows lorries to turn left towards the Sheikh Khalifa Bridge gives only enough time for two or three vehicles to pass through.

"Once you pass the signal, there's no problem. It goes well," said Mustafa Abdulrahman, who works in customs clearing for the Abu Dhabi Shipping Agencies. However, he said, other drivers say there are delays of more than an hour. Udyan Varman, 46, from India, said the queue reaches its peak at rush hour. "Sometimes I wait for an hour or 45 minutes. It's the new signal causing too much problems," he said.

Even though lorry drivers now have to travel further to reach their warehouses in Mussafah, a manager with the National Shipping Gulf Agency Company said the 10-lane motorway that spans what will become the capital's cultural and racing districts was a welcome diversion. "The new road can save time because if we go through the city area, it can take more than one and a half hours to reach Mussafah," he said.

The diversion was put in place to ease congestion in the Tourist Club area, which is undergoing a three-year, Dh5 billion overhaul. Work is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Residents of the area, who have have long complained about the noise, traffic and dearth of parking spaces caused by the construction, are hopeful the new route will make things better. "I think that there were a lot of trucks going through but I think that the problems are mostly caused by poor driving to be honest," said Coleen Noble, a 53-year-old housewife from New Zealand.

"When we first lived here, we lived on 15th Street and I didn't notice the traffic then. Since we moved [to the Tourist Club area] it's been terrible. Absolute chaos. Parking is absolutely hopeless." However, while the diversion may provide a small measure of relief to residents, business owners in the Mina district are expecting to feel an additional burden of increased traffic. For Humaid al Muhairbi, 33, a merchant who works in the pet shops area near Mina Zayed, the result of yesterday's rerouting of freight traffic was likely to be "painful". He expected more congestion as a result of the move. "When a lorry used to pass, you should see how many cars got stuck behind it," he said.

"Imagine when all the lorries pass through this area." He said whenever he wanted to go to the Mina Zayed during rush hours, he took a longer route to avoid traffic. "Instead of going straight from here, I go through Corniche then to Abu Dhabi Customs then to the Mina. Now this will become a daily scenario." Ihab Mohammed Eid, 32, a Jordanian foreman at Abu Dhabi Terminals, drives across the new bridge frequently. "It is a huge bridge. I don't think it will be affected by an increase in lorries," he said.

Menush Johnson, 47, an Indian lab engineer, who visits the Indian Social & Cultural Centre three times a week, predicted an increase in congestion. However, he said: "Even if there is more congestion here, I don't think it will affect me because I come through the Corniche. "That will be good for the rest of Abu Dhabi, but not for this small area." jgerson@thenational.ae