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Russia's winter wonder

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, requires a host of new venues and infrastructure. Jo Stimpson visits four key construction projects.

Following the well documented stumbling blocks encountered by the organisers of Delhi’s 2010 Commonwealth Games, the pressure is on other cities now gearing up to stage their own international sporting events.

London, of course, is the host of the biggest sporting event on the immediate horizon, and will have to pull off myriad construction projects for London 2012 to be a success.

Rio de Janeiro will doubtless face increased scrutiny as the first city in South America to host an Olympic Games, in 2016. And prior to that, Glasgow will stage its Commonwealth Games in 2014. Glasgow will benefit from a head start, already having 70% of the required venues in place prior to bidding for its Games.

The same cannot be said for Sochi’s Winter Olympics, also scheduled for 2014. A small Russian resort city popular with domestic tourists, Sochi sits sandwiched between the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains. Olympic venues will be split between a Coastal Cluster and a Mountain Cluster.

“This is an unprecedented project for Russia. It is one of the largest construction projects
in Europe”

Alexandra Kosterina, Olympstroy


In the summer months, Sochi enjoys a humid climate that brings in the tourist trade, but that tourism dries up when temperatures plummet in the winter. It is hoped that the Winter Olympics, with its new facilities and transport links, will leave a legacy of mountain tourism to help Sochi attract year-round domestic and foreign visitors.

Facilities for the Winter Olympics will cost Russia 185bn roubles (£3.8bn) in total, with £1.6bn coming from public funds and the remainder sourced from private investors. NCE visited Sochi to see the progress on the new sporting venues and transport infrastructure that will underpin the Russian Federation’s first ever Olympic event.

Olympic Park

The Olympic Park - or Coastal Cluster - is located adjacent to Adler-Sochi airport on land that used to be occupied by large cabbage fields. The park features six different venues: the Bolshoi Ice Palace and Maly Ice Palace for ice hockey; the Curling Centre; the Olympic Oval for speed skating; the Olympic Skating Centre for figure skating and short track speed skating; and the Olympic Stadium, which will host the opening, closing and award ceremonies. “The Olympic Stadium is only for ceremonies - no competitions will be held there,” explains organiser Olympstroy spokesman Alexandra Kosterina.

Olympstroy says 15% of all construction for the Olympics - including infrastructure as well as event venues - is already complete. There are 215 individual projects altogether, comprising 400 different work sites. Media reports have suggested that by the time Sochi is ready for the Games, it will have undertaken more construction than any other Olympic city before it.

“This is an unprecedented project for Russia. It is one of largest construction projects in Europe if not the world,” says Kosterina, emphasising the importance of careful logistics and scheduling. “Any small schedule delay in any part can impact other areas of the project.”

Designed by Populous and Mosproject-4, the Olympic Stadium will be a permanent structure more than 69m tall, with a translucent polycarbonate roof featuring photovoltaic panels. The design is intended to evoke snowy mountain peaks, and the venue will offer striking views of the Black Sea. The stadium is still at an early stage of construction, with concrete casting of the foundation slab in progress.

Construction of the Bolshoi Ice Palace is much more advanced. The permanent 40m high structure is designed to resemble a frozen drop of water and has a 7,070m² translucent silver domed roof.

A 490t metal frame for the dome was constructed in August on top of a ferro-concrete supporting ring beam.

Further metal structures to support the roof will be installed by the end of this year. Around 700m of a planned 32km of pipelines for an automated fire-fighting system have been installed so far, and external concrete stairs and ramps for the venue are currently being cast.

At the smaller Maly Ice Palace, works are in progress to construct the foundation platform which will be the only permanent part of this venue. The rest of the structure will be demountable, as will the Curling Centre and Olympic Skating Centre, allowing them to be moved after 2014 to other parts of Russia. The permanent venues will endow the Olympic Park with a legacy of sports, concerts, recreation centres, trade exhibitions and, in the case of the Olympic Stadium, football matches.

Adler Ring Interchange

Sochi is not a large city, and has only a small airport located in the Adler district. But the Winter Olympics will bring swathes of visitors from across the world. The airport has been expanded accordingly - a new £129M terminal opened on 14 September.

Now the transport infrastructure surrounding the airport has to catch up. The Adler Ring Interchange is under construction to ease traffic congestion. It will connect roads running between the airport to central Sochi, the Olympic Park and the Mountain Cluster.

The new multilevel interchange will replace an existing interchange which includes a level crossing. It has long suffered heavy traffic flows and delays. Also the original road layout meant that motorists travelling from the airport to the Olympic Park would have had to make an inconvenient detour to the railway station, where they would have to perform a U-turn.

The project comprises a 508m long steel and concrete composite structure, which will feature noise protection screens to protect the surrounding area.

“The weight of the sections moved can be pretty significant. It’s impressive when such a large structure moves”

Sergey Mozalev, AMOST Foundation

The roadway is constructed in 17 sections using a longitudinal launching method. The sections are built one by one on the ground, then lifted into position to be launched. Jacks on top of temporary supports take the weight of the roadway sections before they are lowered down onto their permanent concrete piers. This method allows the work site to remain small and cause only minimal disruption to traffic.

“The weight of the sections moved can be pretty significant,” says Russian bridge engineers association AMOST Foundation executive director Sergey Mozalev. “I can tell you, it’s impressive when such a large structure moves.” The entire structure has a weight of 700t.

The surrounding area is fairly built up, with some homes less than a metre away from the new structure. Those residents have been rehoused as their homes are being demolished. But as a gateway from the airport to the Olympics, the new interchange will offer a much improved first impression to international visitors in 2014 and beyond.

Integrated road and railway

One of Sochi’s main selling points is the close proximity of all its Olympic venues. Olympstroy says this is the first time in Olympic history that all ice arenas will be within walking distance of one other. The distance between ice and snow venues is shorter here than it was at Vancouver’s Winter Olympics in February this year.

In Vancouver, the city and mountain venues were a 2.5 hour journey apart. Here, it will be just 30 minutes thanks to a new £4.7bn integrated road and railway that will act as a transport backbone from the Adler district of Sochi up to the Alpica-Service mountain resort and the Mountain Cluster of venues.

The project features a railway and a highway running parallel to each other around 20m apart. It will be 50km long including 35km of bridges and overpasses as well as six separate tunnels each for road and rail, with the longest extending 4.5km. The first and fifth tunnels are 2km long, and the others 300m-400m. There will also be five interchanges. The main construction work began in April 2009. The first 6km section of the project has already been completed and was opened in August this year, in time to provide additional road capacity for construction traffic near the Olympic venues.

More deadlines are already looming: 14km of rail are to be commissioned by the end of this year, with the second phase of the highway - comprising 16km of road - due to be completed early next year. Work is on schedule, says contractor Mostotrest deputy project manager Viktor Korotin, and when the first 14km of rail are commissioned they will be used to transport materials needed in the remaining construction.

“The point of no return has not passed yet, but the last IOC visit was very positive”

Viktor Korotin, Mostorest

Land purchase issues have proved a challenge on this project as the route passes through private land. “These issues are being addressed,” says Korotin. “Meanwhile we will complete Exit 2 where land allocation is ready.”

“Obtaining all the permits and approvals is not an easy task,” agrees Mozalev.

The route also borders a national park in Mzymta River Valley, prompting environmental scrutiny of the works.

The International Olympic Committee inspects the project six times a year. “Each time they say if we’re not on schedule this can be closed down,” says Korotin. “The point of no return has not passed yet. But the last visit was very positive; the committee members were saying ‘the Russians are on schedule!’.”

One way in which the project gains green credentials is by casting reinforced concrete beams on site. “For the first time in the practice of railway building in Russia we are using continuous concrete beams,” says Korotin. “We have two concrete plants here where we do our own mixtures. We do it on site so we avoid any significant transportation.”

Of course, new railway stations must also be built. There will be four new stations - including two in the mountains and one at the Olympic Park - and a refurbishment of the existing Adler station.

A bump on the way came in the shape of floods last year at a point where the first bridge of the route passes over a river known locally as “the wild river”. Here, water levels rise by up to 3m, around 15 times a year. “There were a few floods in 2009 and the river even took away a few of the metal parts,” says Korotin. “This year the winter was milder and we only lost some of the fittings”.

Other than this, he says, the construction is expected to be fairly straightforward.

“We do not see anything too complicated or difficult to do,” he says. Provided the project can live up to the pressure and constant checks by the IOC”, the finished product will play a vital part in Sochi’s success both during the Olympics and in legacy.

Kurortny Prospekt relief road

Korortny Prospekt is the longest road in Sochi - which is in turn the longest city in Europe - and one of only two major roads through the city centre.

Unsurprisingly, it experiences heavy traffic, which is only expected to increase with the Winter Olympics. A 17km relief road was conceived to ease that traffic and to drive suburban development.

The new road will include two overpasses - 2.3km and 150m long respectively - as well as nine interchanges, two pairs of tunnels and four bridges.

The project has been divided into three phases, with phase one construction underway since November 2009.

“For the first time in the practice of railway building in Russia we are using continuous concrete beams.”

Viktor Korotin, Mostorest

Work on this phase’s bridges and overpasses started in January 2010.

On the tunnels, the New Austrian Tunnelling method (NATM) - which uses the geological stress of the surrounding rock mass to stabilise the tunnel itself - is being used, with a Sandvik MT720 combi cutter for excavation. A monitoring system allows the tunnelling progress, and the geological conditions immediately ahead of the machine, to be checked online.

Contractors are working around the clock, and construction of the first bridge over the Sochi River has already begun with piles being driven. When the first phase is completed, phases two and three will be worked on simultaneously by two different contractors. While phase two will be completed in time for the Olympics, phase three is expected to take longer.

Still, progress has been very good, says construction company Tunnel Team 44 deputy general director Alexander Lutzkevich. “The way we’re moving now, we have no doubts we will finish on time.”


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