ntil recently, travelers who wanted to drive
between the central village of Daftah and the
eastern port of Khor Fakkan in Sharjah, United Arab
Emirates (UAE), had to circumnavigate a mountain to do
so. But a vast project is currently underway to take the
Daftah-Khor Fakkan road right through the mountain,
shortening the distance by 60 km (37 mi) and reducing
one-way travel time by 40 minutes.
The project isn’t really about Daftah, a humble village
deep in the Al Hajar (Stone) Mountain range. Rather, the
government of Sharjah is seeking to make road travel
easier between the large Khor Fakkan port on the east
coast and the Sharjah and Dubai ports on the west.
Hamid Tabatabaei is chief of surveying at Sharjah’s Gen-
eral Mechanic Company. He oversees the three surveying
teams working on the Daftah-Khor Fakkan road project,
which includes the construction of ten mountain tun-
nels—five east-bound and five west-bound. At 1,270 m
(4,170 ft) in length, these tunnels will be the longest in the
UAE, and the entire project will eventually cost 500 million
AED ($136 million USD).
The project includes 5 phases; as of June 2013 Phase 2 is
99 percent complete and Phase 3 is underway. Phase 3 will
comprise the construction of dual 860 m (2,820 ft) east-
and west-bound tunnels and approximately 500 m (1,600 ft)
of open road earthworks. Although the complete project
includes culverts and interchanges along the highway,
the tunnels present the major challenge. The scope of
the tunnel work includes all initial and permanent linings,
plus four pedestrian-crossing passages between tunnels.
These will be spaced at 180 m (590 ft).
Dynamite Deep in the Mountains
The Al Hajar Mountains reach 2,980 m (9,780 ft) at their
highest peak and provide the only eastern Arabian
habitat higher than 2000 m (6,600 ft). Rich vegetation,
including woodlands of wild olives and figs, occupies
much of the land.
Yet deep within the mountains, tunneling progress is being
made through the rock, dynamite stick by dynamite stick.
General Mechanic is using the drill-and-blast method of
tunneling, where holes are drilled into the rock. These
holes are packed with explosives, which are detonated to
blast through the rock.
The position and depths of the holes, as well as the
amount of explosive, are critical to ensure that the tunnel
will have an approximately circular cross-section. As the
blasting crews put it, “dynamite does not allow room for
error.” For this reason, the three surveying teams working
on the project are all highly skilled engineers.
Blasting Ten Tunnels through
UAE’s Stone Mountains
Tunnels Will be Longest in the UAE