CW 2015 UAE Infra Conf: Joined up thinking

Bechtel's David Welch envisages a future where the corridor between the UAE’s two biggest cities will be completely developed

Welch: It's "an honour" to work on Riyadh Metro.
Welch: It's "an honour" to work on Riyadh Metro.

Ten years ago, UK-based architect Will Alsop published a book entitled Supercity, where he envisaged a series of nearby cities eventually clumping together to form one huge conurbation.

The example he used to illustrate his theory were the northern English cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull, but it could just as equally be applied to other parts of the world and may one day be applied to the corridor linking Abu Dhabi to Dubai.

David Welch, Europe, Middle East and Africa president of US-based contractor Bechtel, says: “Who would have said 20 years ago that the Emirates would look like they are now in terms of what they have on the market?

“You have in Jebel Ali and Fujairah two of the most important trans-shipment ports in the world. You have Dubai International Airport, which has just become the biggest internationally in the world. You have the growth of Dubai, which was originally a services centre with some shipping around the creek, which has grown towards Abu Dhabi with the financial centres and the Marina, with Jebel Ali there all of the time.”

Indeed, he doesn’t believe it to be too fanciful that within 20 years there could be urban development along the entire stretch of coastal road between the UAE’s two major powerhouses.

“The people who are running this emirate [Dubai] and Abu Dhabi today can probably remember driving on a road that was two lanes and there was hardly anywhere to stop along the way,” he says.

“If you look at my own country or Australia as an example, the commute between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is, relatively speaking, not much.”

He says that Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are all well-positioned to take advantage of global growth, particularly as they are closer to many of the new engines of global growth.

“You can fly to 80% of the world’s gross global product within eight hours of Dubai – or Abu Dhabi or Doha. And you can get to 80% of the world’s population.

“And if you look at some of the most rapidly-growing cities in the world, 20 years ago you wouldn’t have had any of those three in the top 50. Now, you have one that ranks up there with the truly iconic global cities of Hong Kong, London and New York – and that’s Dubai.”

Bechtel is delivering a series of major infrastructure projects around the region, including Riyadh’s Metro and the main terminal building at Muscat International Airport, where it is leading a consortium that includes Turkish contractor Enke and local Omani firm Bahwan Engineering Company.

That project has already slipped from its initial completion date of April 2014 – partly as a result of the sinking of a vessel that was carrying steel for the terminal from its Chinese supplier to Oman.

“This is a complex, large airport project so it has quite a number of other moving pieces,” Welch said, adding that it had made good progress with the project in recent months.

“It’s going up very fast now because all of the structural steel is almost all in place, the cladding is going on, so the MEP systems are going inside [and] the stonework is going up.

“The Minister of Transportation has been visiting regularly. He has made a number of statements about his expectations and he has targeted an opening for full operation of 2016.

“So, here we are at not quite the beginning of 2015 and we’re full pedal to the metal in getting that to where he would like it to be by the beginning of next year so he can operate it during the year.”

At Riyadh Metro, meanwhile, where its consortium with Al Mabani, Consolidated Contractors Corp and Siemens is delivering the biggest, $10bn package for lines one and two, Welch said work is “progressing well”.

“We’re very proud of our work in Riyadh. It’s the most significant public transportation infrastructure project in the Kingdom’s history. It is an enormous job for the consortium in which Bechtel is a part.”

Its section contains the most underground tunnels in the busiest parts of the city, which are being built partly through cut-and-cover methods, but also by using a number of massive tunnel-boring machines.

“It’s an honour to work there because it’s so important to the future of the Kingdom. If you go to Riyadh today, we’re into that project big time. There are holes in the ground – big ones – and there are a lot of traffic diversions. The traffic is even worse in Riyadh than it ever was! But the plan has been systematic and we’re trying to get the impact on the neighbouring community and control that to the extent we can for such an enormous project.”

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