Interviews

In profile: Ahmed Alhammadi on new technology in UAE road projects

Big Project ME speaks to Ahmed Alhammadi, director of the Road Department at the Ministry of Infrastructure Development, to understand how the ministry is marrying technology and data to improve efficiency and performance

In August 2017, the Ministry of Infrastructure Development in the UAE announced that it had developed a new index to help it assess and measure the condition of bridges across the country.

The Advanced Bridge Condition Assessment Index was developed in collaboration with the University of Sharjah. This system ensures the periodical inspection of bridges by following a theory of algorithms, whereby every material used in the construction of a bridge is assessed in order to determine whether or not it needs maintenance – without impinging on the conditions of other materials used, the Ministry explains in a statement to WAM.

Engineer Ahmed Alhammadi, director of the Road Department at the Ministry of Infrastructure Development, says data received through the Road Asset Management System sets the priorities of maintenance for the country’s road networks.

“The results to be delivered by the innovative index will play a significant role in determining the use of building material in roads constructed at the federal level nationwide, in accordance with best international practices and standards,” he explained at the time, stressing that the development of the index was a reflection of how keen Dr Abdullah bin Mohammed Belhaif Al Nuaimi, Minister of Infrastructure Development, was to ensure the ministry’s sustained support for research and development.

Alhammadi points out that such indices contribute to leveraging the country’s ranking in global competitiveness reports.

“The UAE came first for the fourth year running under the Road Quality Category at the Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2107, published by the Davos World Economic Forum – which is a world testament to the integrated infrastructure boasted by the country, as part of the 2021 Vision.”

To Alhammadi, the development of these indices is part and parcel of the Ministry of Infrastructure Development’s evolution. As the head of the Roads Department, he tells Big Project ME that part of his remit is to ensure that the department is up to date with the latest technologies and methodologies.

“Here in the Road Department, we’re involved with roads projects, their execution and management. Management-wise, we have the road asset management system and we’ve included the bridge management system this year. We’re the first government body that is implementing such type of management for bridges.

“We’ve developed, in collaboration with the University of Sharjah, a bridge index that is specialised for the types of bridges in the federal network. Also, we’ve developed the slope management index, with its own equations which are based on the weather, climate change and so on. We’re developing indices that suit the UAE and the GCC countries, in the management of system assets.

“The issue that we faced previously was that some bridges in the federal network are more than 20 or 30 years old. We don’t have the design or maintenance plans for them, and when we inspect them visually, what amazes us is that the bridges are in a very good situation, but we started to implement the bridge management system to know the maintenance plan of those bridges, in case we wanted to develop or change them.

“Most of the decisions now are to demolish and rebuild, which is not sustainable. The sustainable solution that we’re looking for now is by the bridge management system. We’re now looking to have maintenance plans of five years for the full network of bridges, which is around 800 bridges and culverts,” Alhammadi says.

As the UAE moves forward with its plans for further growth and development, Alhammadi says part of the Road Department’s job is to work with the local governments of the various emirates to support their expansion plans.

The Ministry of Infrastructure Development is responsible for the Northern Emirates – Sharjah, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah – including everything from the federal roads that link the emirates and the major cities, through to federal buildings, schools, police stations and hospitals.

As such, Alhammadi says the Road Department tries to coordinate with local governments in the emirates when it comes to developing road networks.

“We work with the planning departments or the local municipalities to know their future plans. We try to make our master plan [based on those discussions], especially for the roads. It depends on the expansion of the population, and the commercial and residential projects that come up. From that, we build our master plan and we try to work with it. We update it continuously, as per the data and information from the local government,” he stresses, adding that government authorities coordinate well with the Ministry.

On the road network side, the department is investing heavily in the development of intelligent transport systems, in line with the UAE’s vision of having smart cities and smart transport solutions. All this is part of the Road Department’s plan to develop performance-based maintenance contracts in a smart way, says Alhammadi.

“It’s a way to have everything under our control – the cars, the places where they’re moving – we have call centres that handle emergencies, such as any defect in the road networks. We even have mobile applications.

“We have a circle, which is Masar Cars [an initiative that involves deploying vehicles to monitor federal roads and carry out daily inspection patrols to record any damage to asphalt layers and arrange for it to be fixed], the call centre and the mobile applications. These feed into our system for maintenance management.

“So any time we receive a notification of any defect, each item has a certain number of hours to be fixed. For example, with a steel guard rail – we have for this, if I’m not wrong, two hours to be fixed. Once we have a defect on the system, we have three colours – red, yellow and green. Yellow is to show that it’s under maintenance, red indicates that the contractor still hasn’t looked at it, and green means that the job is done.

“Whatever is green, we have to check it and see if it’s fixed properly or not. Also, we have started to take calls from road users at the same time, and we’re starting to try and fix the defects on the same day. There’s a clear channel of communication between us, the road users and the contractors.”

Furthermore, Alhammadi reveals that the Road Department is working towards developing traffic management solutions that use smart technology to improve the performance of road networks.

“We’ve started now with a small control room centre, but in the future we hope to have a professional one that will include the whole road network of the UAE. Right now, we also have counting stations and have implemented 27 of them.”

In September, the Ministry of Infrastructure Development announced the renewal of a deal for the maintenance of 25 Vehicle Counting Stations installed in 2012. This project has the first five VCS for Weigh in Motion use – a high-speed weighing system for weighing and classifying vehicles according to type. This can be carried out on a prepared lane so that there is no need to stop vehicles.

The scope of the contract includes the supply and installation of radar-based counting stations, as a complement to Vehicle Counting Stations.

“Regarding the counting stations – we have 27 of them, with five of them being weight and motion stations – the ministry today receives updated data of the number of vehicles that pass through counting stations every minute,” says Alhammadi, adding that the data is collated and used to help improve systems and performance.

“We have started to develop so many smart ideas for our network systems. We’ve started developing safety ideas too. Regarding the Intelligent Transport Systems, we’ve implemented the smart tower, which is an all-in-one newly developed idea. We’re the first ones to develop such type of towers, which include all traffic counting, radars, climate and fog sensors and so on. Rather than having multiple tools of Intelligent Transport Solutions, we have all the tools in one,” he asserts.

With regard to safety, Alhammadi points out that the UAE is the first country in the Middle East to implement tailgate dots. This initiative has been implemented on Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road in Umm Al Quwain, from exit 103 to exit 110.

The initiative was implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior’s challenge to reduce road fatalities in the UAE by 21% between December 15, 2016 and February 15, 2017. Initiated on January 1, 2017, the project includes the drawing of white dots on the road and fixing side boards with phrases on them, such as ‘leave safety distance’ and ‘maintain at least two dots distance’. It aims to disseminate awareness among road users and urges them to leave a safe distance between vehicles, he explains.

“All our roads are high-speed roads, and that’s why we need to educate people and make them aware of the distances that they should keep. Unfortunately, we did a survey and the majority of the responses told us that the distance they had to keep at 120km/h was the distance of a car length, which is totally wrong! We should be keeping a distance of at least 62 metres between two cars.

“So we’re trying to implement as much as we can, safety-wise. We’re looking at new studies and developments in our federal networks, we’re doing safety audits for our federal roads. Some of them were built in 1972, so there’s natural wear and tear there. There’s been many changes, especially with safety. We needed so many changes, and we’ve started to do them,” Alhammadi concludes.

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