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Cultural Village Bridge

Ashghal

Cultural Village Bridge

Amid declining government revenues and an overheated construction sector, a report has emerged that Qatar is delaying the development of the iconic Sharq Crossing.

Dubai-based business intelligence firm MEED reported this week that delivery of the project would be postponed as Qatar starts deferring non-essential infrastructure schemes.

Qatar’s public works authority, Ashghal, did not immediately respond to questions Monday.

Pedestrian walkway for West Bay bridge.

Ashghal

Pedestrian walkway for West Bay bridge.

The Sharq Crossing was to be a 12-kilometer series of tunnels and bridges connecting Hamad International Airport, Katara Cultural Village and the Dafna/West Bay business district.

Along with being an architectural icon that redefined Doha’s skyline in time for the 2022 World Cup, the Sharq Crossing was expected to be capable of handling 6,000 vehicles an hour and offer some relief to commuters on the Corniche.

After some five year of discussions, plans for the project – dubbed “one of the most ambitious engineering projects ever undertaken in the Middle East” by officials – were unveiled with much fanfare in December 2013.

Construction was supposed to start this year and be completed by 2021, just before football fans started to pour into Qatar for the World Cup.

While Ashghal refused to put a price tag on the project, MEED previously estimated it would cost approximately $12 billion.

Concerns about cost overruns, delays and competition for skilled workers have reportedly prompted Qatar to reschedule a handful of major projects over the past year. However, the Sharq Crossing appears to be one of the most high-profile infrastructure initiatives to be affected to date.

News of the postponement comes a week after Qatar’s government established a ministerial committee overseeing projects of “strategic importance” and tasked with prioritizing major development initiatives and reviewing costs, among other responsibilities.

Financial concerns

ConstructionLast week, construction consultancy firm EC Harris reported that Qatar once again had the highest building costs in the Gulf in 2014.

In recent years, the push to build new homes, roads, schools and office buildings for Qatar’s rapidly growing population has strained the supply of construction material and skilled labor in the country.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s ability to absorb large cost-overruns is dwindling almost daily alongside the falling price of oil.

Qatar’s large financial reserves should help the government shoulder a period of low oil prices. However, authorities are under pressure to cut costs – likely by delaying or canceling unessential construction projects.

Adding to financial concerns surrounding the project, multiple media reports say other clients of the Spanish architect behind the Sharq Crossing have paid much more than they had expected for his projects.

Sharq CrossingThe New York Times and National Public Radio have both documented problems with the quality of Santiago Calatrava’s work as well as examples of massive cost overruns. More recently, Fast Company Design published an article under a headline asking if Calatrava had become “The World’s Most Hated Architect?

News of the delay will likely be disappointing for the companies that hoped to cash in on the project. Several firms, including Belgium-based Besix, had formed joint ventures with other contractors ahead of submitting their credentials last fall as part of a pre-qualification process.

However, a MEED editorial hailed the postponement, saying it was in the long-term interest of Qatar and its construction sector:

“Delaying the construction of the Sharq Crossing gives Doha’s already overheating construction sector some respite … Contractors fear they will have to deal with severe price inflation, materials shortages and other supply chain issues as the market attempts to deliver too much too quickly.”

It predicted that had work on the Sharq Crossing started as planned this year, tourists visiting Qatar during the 2022 World Cup would have been treated to the sight of a 12-kilometer construction project, rather than the architectural wonder officials had envisioned.

Thoughts?

While public works authorities are reportedly postponing and scaling back several development projects, it appears plans are progressing for a new multibillion-dollar  waterway crossing running above and below Doha Bay.

On Wednesday, Ashghal held an “industry engagement day” to brief engineering and construction firms interested in working on the 12km Sharq Crossing project, which will connect the new Hamad International Airport, Katara Cultural Village and the West Bay financial district.

Dubbed “one of the most ambitious engineering projects ever undertaken in the Middle East” when it was officially unveiled in December, the Sharq Crossing will consist of three bridges linked by 8km of subsea tunnels.

Construction is slated to start in 2015 and wrap up by 2021.

Ashghal has declined to discuss the budget of the project, but a report published earlier this year by MEED puts the price tag at around $12 billion. According to the Dubai-based business intelligence group, the first tenders on the project will be awarded sometime this year:

“MEED understands that there will be between four and seven packages covering the three bridges, which vary between 600m and 1.3km, and the tunnel sections.”

The report added:

“A final design for the crossing has been long time coming, with earlier designs dismissed by the former emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who wanted something special. The latest iteration, which was announced by Ashghal in December 2013, is certainly that – with three iconic bridges linked by subsea tunnels creating the appearance of a flying fish as the bridges leap out of the water.”

The MEED report notes that contracting companies are becoming increasingly concerned about the rising input costs stemming from the country’s aggressive infrastructure build-out and limited capacity to import construction materials.

According to Reuters, this was one factor – along with competition for manpower and bureaucratic delays – that have led authorities to reschedule 15 percent of the country’s development projects that are not essential for hosting the 2022 World Cup.

The Sharq Crossing is forecast to be capable of handling 6,000 vehicles an hour, taking some of the pressure off existing roads.

Thoughts?

Work on a 12km series of underwater tunnels and bridges connecting the new Hamad International Airport, Katara Cultural Village and the West Bay financial district is to get underway in 2015, government authorities have announced.

Some five years after the idea of the Doha Sharq Crossing (formerly Doha Bay Crossing) was conceived, Qatar is now moving forward with the project, and aims to open the crossing by 2021.

It is working with Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and US-based Fluor Corp., the program management consultant that has been hired to supervise construction.

In a press conference today, Ashghal dubbed the venture “one of the most ambitious engineering projects ever undertaken in the Middle East.”

Along with dramatically altering Doha’s waterfront skyline, the Sharq Crossing – which will be capable of handling 6,000 vehicles an hour – is expected to take some of the pressure off existing roads. According to Ashghal president Nasser Bin Ali Al-Mawlawi:

“This is not a mere architectural masterpiece of bridges and tunnels. This will alleviate traffic jams on the Corniche and adjacent main roads.”

However, a feasibility study prepared by consultants at COWI Gulf said the crossing “alone will not solve the traffic problems in Doha, and there will be a need to further strengthen the road network in Doha” as the population and car ownership rates increase.

Al-Mawlawi repeatedly declined to discuss cost forecasts of the project, telling Doha News that the project “is still in the early stages.” However, previous estimates of the complex engineering feat put the price in the billions of dollars.

The crossing consists of three bridges, ranging in length from 600 and 1,310 meters, linked by 8km of subsea tunnels.

Calatrava, a Spanish structural engineer whose has also designed a series of three bridges that span the Trinity River in Dallas, Texas, first created the concept of the crossing in 2011, at the behest of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Urban Planning.

In April, his initial designs went viral after someone posted them on YouTube:

Ashghal said the bridge connected to West Bay will be located between the Sheraton and Four Seasons hotels and consist of a two-deck arched structure that incorporates a recreational park accessed via an elevated walkway and funicular cableway.

The Katara entranceway will be between the cultural village and the St. Regis Hotel, while the Al Sharq Bridge will connect to Ras Abu Abboud Street near the new airport.

The tunnels, which will be off-limits to vehicles carrying heavy goods, will include three-lane expressways in each direction, running between HIA and West Bay. The tunnel between West Bay and Katara will be two lanes in each direction.

Al-Mawlawi said the project would create between 10,000 and 15,000 jobs. The next year will be spent preparing more detailed designs as well as pre-qualifying companies to work on the project.

He said the size of the project means the construction work is likely to be broken up, with three firms each responsible for one bridge.

Residents can view the designs themselves over the next few days:

Thoughts?