An unconventionally structured joint venture (JV) that incentivises contractors to direct all available resources into a R1,5-billion project on the Gauteng Freeway improvement Project (GFIP) is creating new benchmarks for smaller contractors to work towards.

SSI transport sector group manager Pieter Van Niekerk explains that if a consultant completes 25% of the work and has a 20% portion of the JV, then 25% of the fees, and 25% of the super profit, will be given to the consultant. He says that the incentive is proving effective.

The South African National Road Agency Limited (Sanral) awarded the design and supervision tender for two sections of the GFIP to the Gauteng Freeway Consortium (GFC) JV at the end of 2007. SSI, part of the DHV group, is in a JV with project management companies Goba, NTSU Engineering Consultants and Semenya Furumele Transportation Engineers.

The contract is for the design and supervision of the upgrade of the N1 highway from the 14th Avenue interchange to the Buccleuch interchange, and on the N3 between the Buccleuch interchange and the Geldenhuys interchange, amounting to about 40 km of road. Included in the scope of work, is the assessment of the first kilometre of crossroads on either side of the freeway at interchanges.

These projects are part of the greater Sanral’s GFIP, which is a R14-billion undertaking to upgrade, construct, reduce congestion and improve safety on about 500 km of roads around Tshwane, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni. Work on the eight sections that complete the overall project, are scheduled to run concurrently. It is the biggest single national roads project undertaking of its kind in 20 years.

Van Niekerk comments on the GFC project, “Because of the extremely high traffic volumes involved, both projects have required SSI to look at new levels of design. Current options like ultra-thin concrete and high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes are under consideration. The company has also done noise level reviews as part of its environmental impact assessments.”

Construction work on the two sections began at the end of May.

14th Avenue to Buccleuch

The 14th Avenue to Buccleuch section includes the four access interchanges of Beyers Naude and Malinbongwe Drives, William Nicol and Rivonia Roads.

The GFC JV had to plan for a 10-year design horizon for this section, which includes improving interchanges with the addition of new and auxiliary lanes and increasing traffic capacity, as well as making provision for intelligent transport systems (ITS), ramp metering and HOV lanes. A significant priority is to make appropriate provision for public transport vehicle movement.

The JV’s task includes evaluating the integrity of the current road surface and recommending rehabilitation measures capable of achieving at least a ten-year ‘no maintenance period’, after completion of the works. Other elements of this contract will look at bridge clearances and upgrading, road drainage, maintenance and upgrading of road signage, freeway lighting and managing traffic during the construction phase.

Van Niekerk says construction work on the 14th Avenue section, with construction company WBHO as the leading partner, is moving at a faster than projected rate. “All the structures have been exposed, and drilling and blasting work has begun. About 7 km of the median has been cleared and is ready for layerworks. This includes an additional inside lane, as well as the lighting system, and the ITS fibre optic cables are also being laid out, which is being done on a separate contract, but in conjunction with this project,” adds Van Niekerk.

All the interchanges are being upgraded, and work on the structures related to these interchanges has also commenced. The foundation work on Rivonia Road, William Nicol Road, Malibongwe Drive and 14th Avenue has commenced.

“Currently, the GFC is very confident of the progress on the N1. The contracts were awarded in 2006, and completion is scheduled for May 2010,” adds Van Niekerk.

He adds that the contractor requested that the entire project be constructed simultaneously. “This is slightly problematic, in that traditionally, work starts at one end and proceeds towards the end of the project. This meant that resources, such as equipment and personnel, were located in one area. With the new method, a bridge specialist could be working at one point at a certain time, and then an hour later be required at another distant location of the project. With the construction work and high traffic volumes, this results in time delays.”

Buccleuch to Geldenhuys

Van Niekerk says the N3 section has started a little bit slower, but that it is now progressing well. Barriers have been placed along the road medians and the areas are closed off for construction work. The medians are being cleared and prepared for the installation of the lighting systems. From a traffic accommodation point of view, it is a challenging task, but the work is progressing quickly, he adds.

Part of the plan for this section of the highway is to widen the road median and outer edges to add a fourth lane of traffic in both directions, to relieve the current problematic congestion. Further widening on the outer edges will provide auxiliary lanes at all on- and off-ramps at interchanges, while other improvements include widening of off-ramps and bridges and resurfacing the road.

The interchanges in this section are Van Buuren Road, Gilloolys, Linksfield, Modderfontein, London Road and Marlboro Drive.

Grounds for Growth

Van Niekerk says that these projects are proving to be an opportunity for the younger staff at SSI to prove themselves, and be exposed to projects of this size and nature. He says many are thriving under these tough conditions.

On the N1 there are five women civil engineers and environmentalists. There are also a significant number of young, black engineers coming through the system and proving themselves on projects of this nature.

Currently, the GFC JV has 17 people working on the N1, and another 13 on the N3. “It is a big team, but with the size of the project and the timelines, once the SSI team moves to nightshifts, the teams will be stretched. On day shifts the team will be fine, but there will probably be a few members short on the night team,” he says.

Once the infills are completed by the end of October, the nightshifts will commence. Nightshift work will include some of the concrete works and concrete work repairs, which have to be carried out when traffic volumes are lower.

Road Challenge

Accommodation of traffic remains a challenge, and safety is a high priority, says Van Niekerk. Environmentally, there are a number of the bridges on water-courses, which are problematic to work on in urban areas and around the traffic. He says that a water course has been the reason for a work stoppage, but that work is now progressing well. SSI has a full-time environmental compliance officer working on the project.

The reuse and recycling of material is an integral part of the projects. Van Niekerk says very little waste needs to be removed from sites, which is mostly the bituminous materials and the concrete waste that has to be transported to landfill sites. “There is an awareness to work for minimal disruption of the environment. Additional screens have been erected to reduce noise levels during construction, but choosing a time for blasting remains a problem. These are challenges that the GFC JV is constantly working to overcome,” he adds.