Friday, February 17, 2006

When Is A Highway Not A Highway?

A highway is not a highway when a lot of people jump up and down about it, apparently. The recent furore about the Parallel Roads Project, connecting West Dubai to Old Dubai, has raised a whole bunch of interesting issues. Terminology, accountability and responsibility are just a few of them.

Let's start with terminology. When news of these two new roads broke a few weeks ago, they were described as 'highways'. It was said in the local press that they would feature clover-leaf interchanges at regular intervals. So this description brings to mind a couple of huge roads with traffic moving at 120 kph. What we in the UK call 'motorways'. Nothing wrong with that, except these two roads will run slap-bang through the middle of a bunch of tranquil residential communities. Not just any old communities, though, these are some of the pioneering developments where, for the first time in the Gulf, foreigners of any nationality can buy, and have bought, their own homes.

It has been said that Emaar, the developer of some of these communities, were told about the plans two years ago. And they never told the residents about it. Obviously not - it would damage their future sales prospects, and probably their all-important share price. So for two years Dubai Municipality (who had responsibility for roads which has now been passed to the new Dubai Roads and Transport Authority) were developing these plans, possibly assuming that because they had heard no squeaks of protest from the mushroom-like residents that everything was tickety-boo.

The excrement collided with the air-circulating device when the RTA announced the projects publicly a few weeks ago. Affected residents were up in arms. They have been offered a meeting with Mr Al Tayer, boss of the RTA, but he has said that it is too late to change the plans.

An article in yesterday's Gulf News casts a slightly different light on the matter.

"It is an artery road just like Jumeirah or Al Wasl Roads and not a highway," said Engineer Maitha Mohammad Bin Adai, Director of Roads Department at the Roads Transport Authority (RTA).
She said there will be signals and standard cross sections to ensure easy traffic flow. The maximum speed on this road will not be more than 80km/h.

So, not highways at all, just a couple of badly-needed arterial roads. If that's true, then that is good news. But I can't help wondering. Why were the roads described as 'highways' in the first place? With clover-leaf interchanges? Was that the original plan? Or did the reporters get it wrong?

Why, after two or three weeks are we now told that these are merely arterial roads and not highways? Is the RTA back-tracking in the face of public opinion? (Not a bad thing, I just want to know).

The point here is that Dubai's Government have always just gone ahead and done what they wanted to. If there has been any kind of consultation then it has been done on the quiet at majlises or whatever. And this has been a great advantage to Dubai in its early development, especially as so many of the projects have taken place on virgin sites. But now you have a different scenario. You have many thousands of foreign residents who have bought into the Dubai Dream. Surely they expect a little respect and consideration when developments are being considered that will directly affect the value of their property and the quality of their lives?

Even though they will never get a UAE passport (most would probably not want one), they still should have rights - more rights than the transient expats who have not bought property here. And the right not to have the leafy avenue outside your front door turned into a six-lane motorway without serious compensation should be one of them.