Water way to live
Billed as the largest construction project in the history of Dubai, the Arabian Canal is too big for one single contractor, as Christopher Sell finds out.
Ever since the Palm Jumeirah attracted international attention in 2002, Dubai's intentions were clear for all to see. Over the last five years, each project the emirate has announced, from the Dubai Waterfront, Palm Deira or Burj Dubai, has complemented and succeeded the previous one in some way, be it in scale or ambition.
In October this year, however, the region's biggest engineering project was unveiled at Cityscape. With an estimated project value of US $11 billion (AED 40.3 billion) and extending 75km in length, the Arabian Canal will eventually become home to two million people - doubling the emirate's current population.
Flowing inland from Dubai Waterfront, and passing to the east of Dubai World Central, before heading back towards Palm Jumeirah, the canal will measure 150m at its widest point and six metres in depth, and will be capable of handling boats of up to 40m long.
"The idea came about a few years ago, when the overall ideas for the offshore developments were being conceived," says Ian Raine, development manager for Arabian Canal, Limitless. "So it has been thought about at the concept stage for a number of years, and certainly a fair amount of work has been done to try and take it forward. But, really, it was only in the first part of this year that the decision was taken to move it forward."
That decision had more to do with the cumulative effect of ongoing projects on infrastructure and utilities, Raine explains, than a perceived place in the pecking order of projects being rolled out across the UAE. "There were a number of waterfront developments going on, but in terms of the overall sequence, this was something that has always been there as part of the overall development of Dubai. I guess it didn't make too much sense to do anything with it until some of the other developments had reached a certain level.
"Obviously the location of the Canal, where it's going at the moment, there is very little out there; but the infrastructure is gradually starting to move in that direction, so in terms of timing, it is quite a good time to start moving forward," he says.
Despite passing through major developments such as Dubai Waterfront, Dubai Investments Park and Jumeirah Golf Estates, Raine dismisses the notion that such a project represents a major headache for those projects currently under construction, pointing out that the Canal has been earmarked for a number of years, and as such is not introducing a new hurdle. "Each developer has been aware of the project since the concept stages and is very supportive - it adds value to their respective projects as we are taking a waterway through each development. It helps with land value and saleability of the land."
Especially, he adds as the Canal runs about 25km inland from the coast, into areas that are pretty barren.
Furthermore, any comparisons between the Arabian Canal and the Creek extension are spurious as the Creek is running through areas that are already under development or fully developed, whereas the Canal is creating a completely new area, introducing whole new communities.
Speaking on the current status of the project, Raine told Construction Week that the route of the Canal, plus the masterplans (developed in conjunction with California-based masterplanners Calthorpe Associates) for the various developments, has been fairly well defined, with only some minor details needing to be resolved. Preliminary bids for the pilot excavation work on three sites, one in Jumeirah Golf Estates and two in the inland canal area, have been invited and Limitless has received responses from several international contractors.
A decision will be made imminently as they are looking to award it within the next week; however, such is the scope of the project, Raine insists that the construction package will not go to one company. "The project is of such a scale that there is no individual contractor that would undertake that level of work. So we see this being divided up into major contract packages, which could be as many as 10, area by area. And the contractor would be entirely responsible for that area."
Raine adds that his team are now in the process of detailing the masterplan for the first two phases of the project, located at the northern end of the Canal, with the intention of creating a fully integrated, balanced development right through the whole area. "The intention is to create a fully integrated city with discreet development which will form part of the whole area." This will include areas with different densities, with the peripheral areas forming low-density village areas. Importantly, there is an effort to ensure an affordable housing component. "This is something which has been lacking to a degree at this point," says Raine.
Transportation logistics are also being addressed with high-level discussions with the RTA. Raine says he is keen to see a water transportation system introduced to the projects (abra's and water taxis for example), linking up with transit stops for the Metro. While there aren't any plans currently to introduce new stops, the high-speed transit link between Al Maktoum International Airport and Dubai International Airport will run close by, so there is a possibilty of linking the development. And there will also be seven major highway crossings required; two for Sheikh Zayed Road, two for Emirates Road, one for the Dubai Bypass and one for the Jebel Ali-Al Ghadab highway.
Construction of the Canal itself presents further difficulties. The canal will remain at sea level throughout its 75km length, which gets more problematic the further the work progresses away from the coast.
"Dredging may certainly be a possibility close to the coast, but further inland it becomes more of a mining operation as we will be excavating down up to 70m. With the ground level that high, it is necessary to maintain sea-level." It is estimated that 1 billion m3 of material will be removed, which will all be used in some way in the landscaping of the ongoing developments, while a further 10 million m3 of water will fill the Canal. Such cuttings into the land will at least afford an opportunity for a more varied style of building, and remove the need for a homogenous development as the sides of the canals will need to be profiled, with some steep, terraced style developments and some shallow.
"It is a very large project, there is no doubt about it," says Raine. "It is purely the scale. And the way we are dealing with that is to break it down into smaller, more manageable portions. That is why we are looking at a number of contractors rather than a single one. First of all, I don't think one contractor would want to take something on of this scale. You will appreciate there is a lot of work in getting to the point in satisfying ourselves the contractors are capable of doing the work. But our hope is by the middle of next year, most of the contracts will have been awarded."
"It is just getting it moving. Obviously there has never been anything of this scale in Dubai - it is the largest yet ever undertaken, so we have challenges as part of that."
With the extent of projects already underway in Dubai, carving up large swathes of the emirate to introduce 100m-waterways and masterplanned developments accommodating millions of people may not appear totally necessary. But, with Limitless keen to award the main contracts during the first quarter of next year, the face of Dubai will inexorably change once again. While it is often commented that a year is a long time for Dubai, come 2015, it is going to be unrecognisable.