Heading south: Poland's A1 Autostrada

By Richard High27 February 2008

When Poland's new A1 motorway is opened to traffic, which is anticipated for 2008, the 10 Vogele pav

When Poland's new A1 motorway is opened to traffic, which is anticipated for 2008, the 10 Vogele pavers will have laid down around 1,6 million tons of asphalt.

Poland's A1 Autostrada is part of the priority E75 North-South Trans European Network (TENs) corridor linking Vardø in Norway to Sitia on the Greek island of Crete via Finland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia and Macedonia. Richard High reports.

Flying into Gdansk Rebeichowo Airport it isn't hard to spot the largest highway project currently under construction in Europe, the A1 Autostrada, as it cuts across the Polish countryside on its inexorable journey south.

Phase 1, the € 528 million, 90 km long section currently under construction on six “fronts” between Gdan's k and Nowe Marzy by the Skanska- NDI joint venture (JV), itself part of concessionaire Gdan' sk Transport Company (GTC), is clearly visible from the window of the plane. With the final width of the road close to 30 m the work front is almost 100 m wide and cuts across virgin farmland, woodland and several rivers leaving a huge trail across the Polish plain.

Part of the 568 km long polish section of the E75, also known as Corridor 10, the A1 will eventually run from Gdansk through Torun, Lódz, Czestochowa and Katowice to Gorzyczki, where it will cross the border into the Czech Republic and connect with the D1 motorway.

The 38-month contract, which started in October 2005, involves the construction of 86 bridges – one for almost every kilometre – as well as six interchanges, one toll plaza and five toll stations. The tight time schedule means the JV must construct 1 km of road every 15 days.

When complete the road itself will comprise a “closed” dual carriageway (two lanes in each direction), one central median and an emergency lane on the outside of each carriageway. And, by the time Phase 1 is opened to traffic in November 2008 over 16 million m3 of earth works will have been completed, 100000 m3 of concrete used and 16 million tonnes of asphalt laid. Or that's the theory.

“Everything about this project is big”, said Mariusz Gielniewski, equipment manager for the JV when CE visited the site in July. “We actually expect to move close to 20 million m3 of earth by the time we've finished, while we've already laid 0,29 million tonnes of asphalt so far.

“That's because the scope of the works has expanded on all fronts, but the ground conditions in particular have proved worse than expected, meaning it's more costly and more time consuming,” he explained.

Mr Gielniewski told CE the JV has had to exchange the poor soils it encountered with others sourced locally. These, said Mr Gielniewski, are “more stable, less wet and denser.”

The new material is stabilised with lime and/or cement where necessary. Ten Wirtgen WR 2000 and WR 2500S stabilisers, part of a fleet of over 630 machines currently working on the project, have been used to carry out the work.

Free Choice

“Some machines are on long term rental contracts, others on short term leases,” said Mr Gielniewski, “but the situation changes everyday.” At the time of CE's visit 250 were leased, 382 rented and their total value was estimated at over € 50 million.

The largest supplier is the Wirtgen Group (Wirtgen, Hamm and Vogele), which had 100 machines on site. Volvo has supplied a further 89, Caterpillar 53, and Dynapac 16. Liebherr is the latest addition to “the family”, recently supplying eight machines, mainly large excavators and dozers.

“We had a free choice of machines,” said Mr Gielniewski. “So we chose manufacturers that offered the best package of machine and service. We also minimised the number of suppliers to two per key equipment type.

“The machines cannot stop working. Service is crucial and was a key part of the negotiations. If a machine cannot be fixed in under 72 hours and we need a replacement machine it comes at the suppliers' expense,” he added, admitting that some suppliers didn't want to work like this, but “eventually they agreed”.

However, if the operator damages the machine and it is important to get it back on site as quickly as possible then the JV pays. “Repairs when this happens sometimes take too long,” said Mr Gielniewski, “which I'm not happy about."

With this in mind some construction equipment suppliers, such as Volvo, brought in their own maintenance teams and set up shop on site, with mechanics, fully equipped service vans, 4X4 pickups – for rapid response where the vans can't get to – and a complete stock of “most needed" spare parts.

Dedicated coordinators liaise with the JV to schedule maintenance rotas and machine technical data is closely watched – vital for spotting potential problems early and minimising breakages and downtime. A training programme for operators also means they are used as efficiently as possible. “Prevention is the keyword when it comes to maximising machine uptime,” explained Mr. Gielniewski.

Different Approach

Other manufacturers have chosen to approach the requirements differently. Wirtgen Group set up a service facility in Swarozyn. Co-ordinating its service engineers means creating a schedule of repair and maintenance jobs, and making sure there are enough personnel to do the job, explained Lutz Regel, director Wirtgen Polska.

Wirtgen has two big containers of “standard parts" needed during regular maintenance checks on site. There is also a stock of some special parts Skanska-NDI asked it to carry, which has recently been expanded because the number of its machines, and their operating hours, has increased.

Like the other equipment suppliers it is bound by the conditions imposed on it regarding repairs by the JV. However, echoing Mr Gielniewski sentiments, preventative maintenance has been the key to keeping the machines out of the repair yard, said Mr Regel.

“The machines are checked after 50, 250, 500, 750 and 1000 hours of operation. Then after every 500 hours comes the next standard maintenance check. Together with the JV we defined a timeframe of +/- 10% hours for these checks, so the 250 hour check must be done between 225 and 275 hours of operation, for example,” he added.

There is also operator training and bringing in new machines to factor into the equation. Integrating all these requirements, said Mr Regel, presents several challenges. “The first is communication, not easy when the operators and machines are spread over such a big area, the people work in shifts and there is a constant time pressure.

“Another is to keep a consistently high level of technical “know-how" within the team, and spread the project-related knowledge throughout that team,” he added.

Difficulties

With over 3000 employees spread out over 90 km in five main offices and 60 site offices communication and keeping track of all the machines on site is also a taxing issue for Skanska-NDI's Mr Gielniewski. One it solved by giving each machine a unique code so it can be tracked throughout its life on the site. This has been used to schedule work and maintenance and to keep track of exactly what it has done.

Other problems for the JV included dealing with over 300 unexploded World War II bombs, unhappy locals who lost land and dealing with the environmental issues that building a 90 km, 30 m wide motorway bring.

Following a 14 month Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) the JV has had to redirect several rivers and build tunnels or land bridges for the area's wildlife – frogs, mice, deer and boar. While employing over 1500 locals means the local economy is benefiting from its presence too.

Another problem has been deciding just what machines to choose for the project and how to get them working as efficiently as possible given the tight construction schedule. No surprise that early on the JV decided that GPS would play a large part in the surveying of the site and in keeping the machines on the right track.

“Using a GPS surveying system was new to us,” said Mr Gielniewski. “But it cut down on the number of surveys and surveyors and has helped increase our work capacity tremendously.

“Then there's machine control, the graders and dozers use Leica's Scanlaser system during the earthmoving stage and Vogele's pavers use a total station, although normally we'd use the company's Navitronic system,” he added.

Mr Gielniewski told CE that not many of the operators were not keen to use GPS controlled machines at first. Training was difficult, he said, but once the operators had seen how the system could benefit them and the project “everyone wanted to use it."

Final Countdown

Right now everything is on track for the final handover to be complete by November 2008, however, several viaducts and smaller bridges have already been given to GTC. As far as the actual highway is concerned the JV expect to start handing over completed sections by the end of this year, said Mr Gielniewski, although this is mainly dependent on the weather.

As this is the first project in Poland were the contractor is responsible for the design, build and to a large extent the operation of the project (the JV own 30% of concessionaire GTC) any failure to complete the project on time, and therefore any risk, rests with Skanska-NDI.

However, Mr Gielniewski is sure of at least one thing, “This is a great opportunity for a huge number of people to learn on such a big project with so many variables, and take this away and use it other projects of this nature."

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