Highway concessionaire Connect and its contractor BBTA view the recent reduction in PFI road projects with a degree of dismay, having gained considerable experience of DBFO work. But the benefits of new ways of working are unlikely to be lost - many of the lessons learnt are transferable to other forms of contract.
Connect, which is a collaboration between BICC, WS Atkins and German contractor Philipp Holzmann, was awarded a single DBFO contract to build improvements on the A30 and the A35 in Devon and Dorset in June 1996. WSP Graham and Hyder are the Department's agents.
'Many of the Connect and BBTA staff working on the A30/ A35 improvements previously worked on the A50 PFI contract or the A1-M1 link for Balfour Beatty, which was part of the joint venture there,' says Connect construction site manager Paul Luft, who himself transferred down to the south coast from the A50.
'The team we have here has a lot of experience in DBFO road contracts which has helped us develop the design and build process enormously. This includes subcontractors. We have built up a core of people who know what is required and possible in DBFO contracts in terms of risk and benefit.'
Connect has placed great emphasis on teamwork and developing good relationships between the various companies involved in the A30/A35 project because everyone, in one way or another, is working for the same employer and therefore towards a common cause, says Luft.
'We have come a long way along the DBFO learning curve,' says BBTA's project manager for the A35 John Cope. 'We have built a strong nucleus of expertise. It will be a shame if the cuts in road investment halt the development of the DBFO process, although a lot of the skills we have developed, such as forming good relationships can be taken to other forms of contract.'
Connect's A30/A35 DBFO contract involves the operation and maintenance of a total of 102km of trunk road between Exeter and Bere Regis, west of Poole, for 30 years from the date of the contract award.
The concession includes two capital projects; the 21km A30 Honiton to Exeter improvement which when complete will make up the western end of the DBFO route; and the 9km A35 Tolpuddle to Puddletown bypass which will complete the route in the east at Bere Regis. Both improvement schemes are being built by the Balfour Beatty/Tilbury Douglas/Deutsche Asphalt joint venture BBTA, which also carried out the construction of the A50 project. The A35 bypass is due to be completed in spring 1999 followed by the A30 about six months later.
At the outset of PFI, a leading question was: would road builders be able to truly monitor themselves? A significant feature of Connect and BBTA's management of the A30/A35 improvements is the checking procedures which have been developed to ensure that QA does not prove to be a problem for the Highways Agency.
'The contractual arrangement of DBFO schemes concentrates the mind on quality,' says BBTA project director for the A30/A35 Dave Walker. 'Our first priority is safety, then quality. We have to get it right the first time every time.'
The self certification process in place on the A30 and A35 is based on a quality and inspection training scheme which is mandatory for all BBTA staff. Each site team has its own inspectors to provide initial quality checks. A second level of certification is provided by designated independent inspectors from various parts of the BBTA organisation.
'Everyone is trained, but the course is more advanced for the independent inspectors who are usually foremen or senior engineers. The inspection system has instilled a lot more concern for getting the job done right first time and the training has shown people why certain aspects of their work are done to which specifications.
'Under a traditional ICE Fifth contract, rejections were discarded because we were only interested in getting the clause 38 approval for a particular item of work. We now feed the results of all inspections into a computer database which is used to identify any further training and development needed to meet our objective of getting it right first time every time.'
BBTA has two lump sum contracts with Connect for the construction of the A30 and A35 improvements and two management teams as the distance between the two sites is too great to warrant sharing resources.
As with all DBFO road projects, the contractor has the flexibility to change the design for quicker construction or added value for the concessionaire. Connect's financial gains are reliant on shadow tolls - which increase substantially when the completion certificate is issued - and low maintenance costs, and therefore on the road being fully completed to time and to a high standard.
The A30 and A35 new build schemes share many similarities, partly because both design contracts have been let to one designer, which has helped in terms of standardising the designs and transfer of knowledge from one site to the other, says Luft.
'Common features are also occurring through applying value engineering decisions to both schemes simultaneously whenever possible. For example, we have opted for continuously reinforced concrete pavement and extruded concrete drainage channels with concrete central reserves on both new build sections for maintenance cost benefits.'