Smart lights at Dubai’s airport signal an end to tunnel vision

Driving into a dark underground tunnel on a bright day can result in a temporary loss of focus, which at high speeds is potentially fatal. To help combat this problem at Dubai’s new Airport Tunnel, the project’s M&E contractor installed a smart lighting system so drivers can get used to the difference in brightness inside the structure and outside. CW reports.

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By  Sean Cronin Published  July 9, 2005

Smart lights at Dubai’s airport signal an end to tunnel vision |~|Dubai-Airport-Tunnel200.jpg|~|A camera outside Dubai’s new Airport Tunnel measures and adjusts the lighting inside so drivers become accustomed to the brightness.|~|When the first drivers descend into Dubai’s new Airport Tunnel later this month, they will probably not notice one of its most distinctive features. And that is because they are not supposed to. The US $187 million (AED686 million) tunnel has been equipped with a smart lighting system so that drivers can get used to the contrast between the brightness outside the structure and the darkness inside. The same principle works in reverse so that on exiting the tunnel, drivers are not blinded by the glaring Gulf sunlight. Anyone who has driven into an underground tunnel on a bright day will be familiar with that temporary loss of focus, which at high speeds can be potentially fatal. When Construction Week visited the new Airport Tunnel at midday on the eve of its official opening last week, it was clear that the system worked. “There is a camera outside the tunnel which measures the light and adjusts the lighting inside so that you become accustomed to the lighting levels,” says Jeff Shadwell, construction manager for M&E contractor BK Gulf. The Airport Tunnel, thought to be the biggest such tunnel in the Middle East, comprises of eight lanes with a capacity for 8000 vehicles per hour in each direction. Apart from the main structure of the tunnel, an elevated 440 m-long bridge was constructed at the north entrance of the structure above the Al Quds/Beirut Road intersection and two other elevated bridges, each 200 m long at the Airport Road/Nadd Al Hamar intersection. This axis, which will also have a positive impact on Al Ithihad Road, is expected to save about 10 000 hours of road users a day. The new tunnel has its own electricity feeding station and a control room for monitoring traffic movement. While the main construction package on the project has taken two years to complete, BK Gulf has only been installing the M&E elements since last November, so there has been a lot of work to do in comparatively little time. In addition to the bespoke lighting system, the tunnel also has a smart ventilation system based around 40 jet fans weighing 1.5 t that are attached to the roof by specially manufactured brackets. The fans are reversible so that in the event of a fire, they can blow out the smoke in either direction. “When there is a fire you need to be able to move the smoke without spreading it around. It is obviously very hot, so it rises and you want it to stay on the ceiling,” says Shadwell. It also means that the fans can be switched on both sides of the tunnel to avoid smoke that is being blown out from one side, being sucked back in by the other side. “We also have carbon monoxide monitors so that when levels increase, the jet fans kick in and blow fresh air into the tunnel,” says Shadwell. In the event of an emergency, police radios will be able to function because a radio antenna cable has been installed throughout the tunnel’s length. There is also a heat detection system which links in with a network of surveillance cameras. “If there is an accident in the tunnel, the four cameras in closest proximity to the incident will focus on it and this will be picked up in the control room. Then the relevant authorities will be sent to deal with it,” explains Shadwell. If most of the M&E works on the tunnel can be described as cutting edge and high-tech, the contractor came up with a very ‘low-tech solution’ for installing the fluorescent strip lighting along the roof of the tunnel — all of which is bespoke. Instead of using cherry pickers to access the strip lighting along the roof of the tunnel, BK Gulf went in search of two old double decker buses, which they shipped in from London. They then installed scaffolds on the roof of the buses to serve as makeshift working platforms. The buses may not win any design awards, but they have done the job, proving that in construction, sometimes the simplest of solutions are the best ones.||**||

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