Muscat: Saudis and Omanis are eagerly waiting for the opening of a 726-kilometre-long road linking Oman with Saudi Arabia via the Empty Quarter. It’s expected to be a historic milestone linking two of the biggest countries of the GCC by land for the first time ever.

The Saudi Transport Ministry has affirmed that the road linking the two countries will be opened by the beginning of 2017, reported Al Hayat newspaper.

The new road will cut the distance to Saudi Arabia by more than 800 kilometres. Currently, the distance between Oman and Saudi Arabia via UAE is nearly 2,000 kilometres.

The road was supposed to be opened in 2016, but it was delayed. The ministry did not specify the reasons for the hold up.

More than 200 million Omani riyals (Dh1.9 billion) have been spent by the Oman government on construction on its territory while the Saudi side has spent approximately one billion Saudi rials.

The construction work on the road linking the two countries via the Empty Quarter was completed in 2013, according to Omani authorities.

A 160-kilometre stretch of the road is in Oman, while 566 kilometres is in Saudi Arabia.

In Oman, the road starts from Tanam area of Ibri province, passing through oilfields until it reaches the Oman-Saudi border in the Empty Quarter.

In Saudi Arabia, the stretch will link Haradh-Batha road with Al Shiba oilfield at a length of 319 kilometres and the stretch between Al Shiba to the Omani border will be 247 kilometres.

Engineering marvel

The road has been called an “engineering marvel” as it is built through the moving sands of the vast Empty Quarter, the largest contiguous sand desert in the world, with an area of about 640,000 square kilometres.

The project involved constructing sand bridges between high rising dunes, according to Rosan Contracting, the Saudi contractor.

About 130 million cubic metres of sand was transported to construct the bridges.

That, according to Rosan Contracting, is equivalent to 26 pyramids.

Meanwhile, despite the importance of the road for both Saudis and Omanis, many say they will be reluctant to use it due to its length and the lack of public services like petrol stations, restaurants and other facilities.

Mohammad Al Yousfi, a Twitter user, said that the Saudi authorities should run awareness campaigns before the opening of the road, urging motorists to abide by the traffic rules and not venturing out for hunting trips as most of the areas where road passing are uninhabited.

Al Yousifi added that the accumulation of sand on the road could cause fatal road accidents, stressing the need of providing of ambulance services and street lights along the road.

Trade, tourism

Economic experts believe that the opening of the new road will offer a vista of opportunities and boost trade and tourism as well as enhancing the social integration between families of both sides.

More than 100,000 Omani nationals go to Makkah for Haj and Umrah every year, taking buses or their own vehicles, according to the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs.

Conversely, thousands of Saudis flock to Salalah province, in the southern part of Oman, which is the Oman’s most popular region due to its lush greenery and sub-tropical climate in summer.

The Omani Ministry of Transport and Communication has already floated tenders for investment along the stretch for building integrated service stations on the Ibri-Empty Quarter road, leading to the border with Saudi Arabia.