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Albania celebrates motorway tunnel breakthrough

Albanians last week celebrated the breakthrough of a tunnel which will form part of the country’s first motorway.

The 5.5km long twin tube tunnel passes under Mount Runes at Thirrё in northern Albania.

On 31 May the breakthrough was made in the north tube – a milestone in the construction of the motorway connecting Durres, a major port on the Adriatic coast, to Morine, on the north east border with Kosovo.

At 61km long, the finished project will be Albania’s first four-lane motorway, and the largest infrastructure project it has ever embarked upon.

“It will have a direct economic benefit to Albanians and Kosovans from trade, development and tourism of €50M (£44M) a year.”

Ylli Gjoni, General Road Directorate

The team − led by main contractor Bechtel in an equal joint venture (JV) partnership with Turkish contractor Enka − is using the New Austrian Tunnel Method (NATM), in which site workers spray concrete around recently blasted sections of rock to counter the effect of the ground naturally wanting to move.

But the construction has been more difficult than anticipated due to the quality of the mountain rock, which was less stable than expected.

More intensive methods of supporting the tunnel have been required, including heavy steel arches with spray concrete and concrete infill.

Overcoming financial barriers

The motorway, deemed too expensive in 1988, is being funded with help from the World Bank, as well as government money and loans from private investors and international banks. Plans were upgraded from a single to dual carriageway in 2006 after the World Bank became involved.

However, costs exceeded expectations. The initial price tag of €420M (£365M) has been dwarfed by the current estimate of €750M (£645M). But Ylli Gjoni, director of the project implementation team and deputy general director for Albania’s General Road Directorate, says the motorway will pay for itself within 10 years.

“There is an economic rationale behind it,” he said. “It will have a direct economic benefit to Albanians and Kosovans from trade, development and tourism of €50M (£44M) a year – which is going to increase.”

The final contractural deadline for the tunnel’s completion is July 2011, but tunnel electrical and mechanical engineering manager Gary Dobbs expects to finish sooner.

“I’ve got all the confidence in the world we’ll be done before that,” he said.

  • See NCE next week for a special report on the Albania motorway scheme.

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