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On the road to liberty

Kosovo’s new motorway is a first step in developing the infrastructure and economy of a new country. Jackie Whitelaw reports.

The day NCE visited the construction site for the longest bridge on the Kosovo motorway project, army bomb hunters in the area found their first, and so far only, unexploded piece of ­ordnance.

The Kosovan Defence Force (KDF) had been searching the valleys close to the Albanian border for three weeks ahead of construction teams moving on to the hillside where some of the bridge piers will sit. The rocket propelled grenade (RPG) they discovered had been left buried, pin in, they believe, by retreating Serbian troops during the conflict of 1998. A controlled explosion dealt with the RPG, and the KDF with their allies in Nato’s KFor defence force got on with clearing the rest of the area.

“We’ve never moved so fast to mobilise a project. We’ve been working intensively through the summer on the first two sections of the road”

Darren Mort, Bechtel Enka


Bomb disposal

Darren Mort, project manager for the motorway scheme’s contractor Bechtel Enka, had called the army in because the site had been the scene of some fierce fighting in 1998 and there are still a lot of bombs known to have been dropped but that are still unaccounted for.

“Well, it was a good call getting the KDF in,” he says when he hears news of the RPG and then promptly starts to make plans to keep the job on ­programme.

Mort was expecting something to be found. At the border, around the gently wooded valley and the shores of the nearby lake are craters left by cluster bombs. These were dropped by Nato troops defending the largely Albanian population of what was then the Serb province of Kosovo from Slobodan Milosovic’s Serbian security forces.

Local employment on the project is high on the agenda for Bechtel Enka.

At peak 2,500 people will be working on the project and the plan is that between 70% and 75% of them will be from Kosovo. “We are committed to training locals as we need people we can rely on,” says project manager Darren Mort.
“We have had three job fairs,” explains Bechtel Enka public relations manager Ela Ruci. “From that we have built up a database of potential personnel.”
Everyone coming on to site goes through a safety programme, which is geared for local conditions: “Firearms are strictly forbidden,” says project safety and health manager Ian Bramwell.
Local companies are also being encouraged to bid for small packages. “But we are being very rigorous in our demands,” Mort says. “They don’t have experience of working to our standards or to this pace, but they are responding fantastically.”

Nato moved in at the instigation of then US President Bill Clinton and UK prime minister Tony Blair; both are now heroes in Kosovo and Tony, as an interesting aside, is the most popular name for baby boys in the tiny landlocked country.

Kosovo has been a country since its 2M inhabitants declared unilateral independence from Serbia two years ago. The move was backed by the United Nations (UN) in July this year, when it said that the declaration did not break international law. Sixty-five countries have recognised Kosovo as an independent country; it needs 100 for full statehood. But there are major tensions with Serbia and relations between Kosovo and Serbia will be addressed at the current UN general assembly meeting in New York. Nato forces still have a heavy presence in the country.

Bechtel Enka, a long-established joint venture between the US giant and the Turkish contractor, is right in the middle of this international hot spot, creating a road route that will improve Kosovo’s links to the whole of Europe and, thanks to the life changing nature of good infrastructure, hopefully relieve some of the local tensions.

Vital connection

“Kosovo is a new state, eager to connect to the region and improve the living standards of its citizens. The motorway is a vital step to Kosovo’s economic development,” says Bechtel Enka deputy project manager and construction manager Ibrahim Karaagac.

Kosovo is the size of a UK county and is surrounded by Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. It is a crossroads for people trekking to the sea and its ports and coastal entertainments.

Until last year most traffic headed into Macedonia. But completion of Albania’s first motorway, from the new Adriatic port of Durres to Morinë on the border with Kosovo has opened up a new possibility.

The six-hour trip through Albania has been cut to two and Kosovo can almost breathe the sea air. Bechtel Enka played a key part in building that road (NCE 11 June 2009) But what was needed next was a motorway through Kosovo too, particularly connecting the capital Pristina.

Bechtel Enka’s new 102km route is that road the three-hour trip from Pristina to Morinë will be cut to one putting the Kosovan capital just three hours from the sea through friendly Albania and providing better links with the coast and the rest of Europe for everyone in the region.

The deal to build the Kosovan motorway was signed on 12 April this year. Ground breaking 12 days later was accompanied by spectacular blasting in the colours of the Kosovan and Albanian flag.



The motorway project is the first in Kosovo to go through an internationally recognised environmental assessment.

“We are working very closely with the government on this,” says sustainability and commercial relations manager Suzanne Sullivan. “Everyone wants this to be a project to be proud of. The Kosovans are a proud people and this is a new country. This is the first big project to be done and it has to be right.”
Sullivan was brought in right at the start of the project to build links with government ministers and community leaders.

“We are very conscious of the social aspects of the sustainability brief on this project,” she says. “We have to understand basic concerns like making sure children can get safely to school even though we are building nearby. And some people are having to be moved to make way for the road so we do look at the design of the route to see if a slight change can make moving people unnecessary.”


Just a few days after that heavy construction equipment was driven across the border from the Albanian motorway scheme to start work on the Kosovan one.

“We’ve never moved so fast to mobilise a project,” says Mort. “We’ve been working intensively through the summer on the first two sections of the road, the 19.2km stretch from border to the town of Prizren.
“The whole country is behind this road; this is basic necessary infrastructure to link the country internally and internationally for free movement of goods and people.”

Bechtel Enka has already speeded up delivery of the route by redesigning it. The original plan was to take the four-lane motorway direct through the hills that divide the plain on which Pristina sits from Prizren.

“We did our first drive along the route in September last year during the bid and realised something was wrong with the plan. We’d have been building tunnels emerging onto bridges and going back into tunnels; fun for construction people but not sensible and full of risk. Added to that we’d be on the same alignment as the existing single carriageway road and we’d have to keep moving that so that traffic could keep flowing during construction.

Alternative alignment

“So we offered an alternative alignment that goes round the hills. It is 9km longer but it’s much cheaper and we can get the motorway built a year faster,” says Mort.

The project has been divided into nine sections, with the two trickiest at the border being the first to start. Other sections will open up by next summer with plant rolling on from section to section. At the moment there’s huge effort going into earthworks for sections one and two ahead of the Kosovan winter.

“We are trying to complete the difficult clay cuts before winter and cover them with a layer of hardcore so we can keep the plant moving,” explains earthworks manager Hysein Men.

“There is a high level of groundwater, which means we need to concentrate on excavation and back filling before the rainy season,” adds Karaagac.

Aggregate for the hardcore is coming from a huge 65m deep cut being blasted through a hillside for the trace of the motorway. “It’s our quarry,” ways Mort. “We are using the rock for haul road and for other aggregates. We are building our own crusher ready to crush into six different fractions.” Blasts are taking place three times a day, ramping to 10 soon.

Close by the crusher is the casting yard for U-beam bridge sections for the 14 span bridge that is being erected over a deep valley; some of the piers are already up, and launching starts soon. The 450m span curved structure is 40m high at its highest point and 556m long. “We are going to need to cast 102 of the concrete U-beam sections,” says structures manager Ibrahim Keyik. Most are 2.7m wide, 2.2m high and 37m long. “We are using steam curing to get up to strength in 10 hours,” he says.

“Our alternative for is 9km longer but it’s much cheaper and we can get the motorway built a year faster”

Darren Mort, Bechtel Enka


Up on the hillside, where the final piers need to be built, there may be more bomb clearance work to be done. In the first clearance pass the KDF was only searching down to 500mm in the soil. “Where we are excavating for the bridge is going we will need to explore a lot deeper,” says security manager Everett King. “We’ll be bringing in specialist equipment for this.”

The facts

Cost: €560M (£470M)
Contractor: Bechtel Enka
Client: Ministry of Transport and Communications
Designers: IGS and Egis
Length of motorway: 102.8km
Number of bridges: 24
Excavation: 19.6Mm3
Fill: 12.8M.m3
Total number of U-beams: 475
Peak equipment number: 1,050
Contract signed: 12 April 2010
Construction start: 12 May 2010
Completion: 10 October 2013

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