The deadline is fast approaching. The mission has gathered extreme pace. Skilled labourers clad in coloured jackets and helmets toil round the clock under the watchful eyes of expert engineers. Muscat Municipality officials stay in touch with consultants and contractors to track the progress. For the time being, all of them have set their sights on achieving just one target: Open up the major artery of Muscat, the Darsait - Wadi Kabir road where thousands of vehicles flow day and night, by the end of next year.
It was a process set in motion in the middle of 2012 to decongest Muscat's busiest road during peak hours by widening the existing roads, re-modelling its intersections and building new flyovers. Besides, the Muscat Municipality planned to give the five-kilometre stretch a classy look with an aesthetically pleasing design. So the civic body hired reputed companies which have plenty of experts at their disposal, to ensure that the project lived up to its top billing.
The work kicked off in March last year. Sideways were tightly barricaded, traffic restrictions were imposed, signboards stating the obvious (men at work) and appealing the motorists (reduce speed now) were erected at vantage points all along the route. Sections of rugged mountain were shaved off to make ground for laying additional road lanes and some landmarks, including the giant incense burner and six rose-water sprinklers surrounding the Wadi Kabir roundabout, were demolished.
Plumes of dust billowed up from work sites, high-decibel piling operations resonated the air and crawling traffic became the order of the day. Residents, however, learnt to cope up with the situation, day after day, month after month. The project gave wings to their aspirations as everyone has been dreaming of a better tomorrow and hassle-free motoring forever.
Big plan change
In the wake of the project, issues cropped from unexpected quarters, in the form of utility lines. The contractors relocated most of the water pipelines, electricity and telephone cables before beginning the construction. But the work near the Sheraton Oman Hotel signal was halted thanks to the presence of 133 Kilo Volt electrical cables passing underneath the existing road. The stumbling block forced the officials to redraw the plan, so as to avoid damage to the High Tension power cables.
According to the original project plan, a state-of-the-art underpass was to replace the signal at Sheraton, thus ensuring unhindered traffic in both directions. But it was shelved recently after the officials realised the difficulty in constructing an underpass. A Muscat Municipality official told Hi Weekly that a flyover would come up in front of Sheraton instead of the underpass that was earlier marked in the blueprint. "That is the big change in the plan. We wanted an underpass, but the presence of High Tension power cables forced us to redraw the plan. It is difficult to relocate the 133 Kilo Volt cable to another place. That is why we decided to build a flyover instead of an underpass. A flyover needs less space compared to an underpass. Construction of an underpass would have affected more buildings in the area," the official asserted.
The trouble brought the issue of relaying utility cables (electricity, water, telephone) in a thickly populated area in Muscat to the fore. Plenty of cables that lay underneath, indeed, gave the construction companies a huge headache. However, they have successfully relocated most of them without giving much trouble to the public. "It was a huge task. All the utilities were relocated with utmost care. It was done in a systematic way. Essential services were not disrupted in both the sections coming under the project. Section A stretches from Wadi Kabir to Sheraton, while Section B begins from Hassan bin Thabit School and ends at Darsait/Qurum Heights Road," he said.
"We have successfully diverted 90 per cent of the electrical, water, telephone cables in Section A. The remaining work will be completed soon. The area has a lot of utilities. It is our policy that essential services (water supply, electricity, telephone) should not be disrupted in the name development work," the official added.
Additional lanes & new bridge
Hectic pace of activities are seen in four major locations – Qurum Heights, Darsait, Star Cinema and Wadi Kabir – where new lanes are being added to the existing bridge or new flyovers are being built.
The construction of two additional lanes on the either side of the Qurum Heights-Darsait road is in final stages now. It is expected to open for traffic during November. "The work on the two additional lanes from Qurum to Darsait has been progressing according to the plan. The concretising work will be completed soon. The bridge will have four lanes in both directions to ensure congestion-free vehicle movement. We hope both the stretches can be opened in November," the official said.
It is, indeed, good news for the commuters who crawl in bumper-to-bumper traffic during peak hours in the mornings and evenings. Motorists heading towards Muttrah and Darsait feel most of the pinch, as they have to spend more than an hour to reach their destinations. "It is a pain to drive on the Qurum Heights to Darsait road, and vice-versa, these days. If I leave my office before 5 pm, I can reach my home in Darsait in 30 minutes. If I am a little late, I land up in traffic bottlenecks for more than an hour. The speedometre of my vehicle is usually between 0 to 10 km/ hour. But I hope the new road would make our lives easy," said Sadiq Al Kindy, a regular on this stretch who works in Al Khuwair. Many other residents echoed similar sentiments and are awaiting th completion of this project which will ease their discomfort.
In an attempt to ameliorate traffic woes, the officials also plan to open the new bridge from Qurum Heights to Muttrah soon. "The old bridge has to be demolished before opening up the new one and traffic has to be diverted prior to it," the official disclosed.
The construction sites at Star Cinema junction and Wadi Kabir roundabout, too, have been brimming with hectic activities. According to the official, traffic on one direction at Wadi Kabir (towards Al Bustan) can be opened at the end of 2013 while the traffic in the other direction will begin early next year.
The official also expressed confidence that the project will be completed by the end of 2014, if everything goes according to the current plan. "Almost 55 per cent of the construction work has been completed so far. The construction of the flyover in front of Sheraton will be done at the end and the entire project will take at least one more year to be complete. So we hope to open up the entire stretch by the end of 2014," he said.
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55 per cent work complete
End of 2014
Project completion deadline
Work in Progress
- Construction of two lanes to feed traffic into the Darsait -Wadi Kabir road
- Widening of the Wadi bridge at Darsait Extension of the flyover near Bait Al Falaj complex
- Construction of a flyover in front of Hotel Sheraton
- Construction of a flyover at Wadi Kabir roundabout
- Construction of a number of pedestrian bridges
Change in plan
A state-of-the-art underpass was planned at the Hotel Sheraton Oman signal. But it was shelved recently after the officials realised the difficulty in constructing a tunnel, thanks to the presence of High Tension power cables underneath the existing road. According to the revised plan, a new flyover would be constructed in front of Sheraton.
Re-laying electricity and telephone cable and water pipelines gave the construction companies a huge headache. However, they have successfully re-laid most of them with out causing much trouble to the public.