After years of argument, construction of the controversial Birmingham Northern Relief Road has begun.
It is Britain's first tolled motorway, and once the protesters were forced down from condemned trees along the route, the winning construction consortium hoped the eco-lobby had played its final hand.
So far so good for the CAMBBA consortium of Carillion, Alfred McAlpine, Amec and Balfour Beatty, charged with construction of the 43km route intended to relieve severe congestion along the M6.
Since starting construction in April, the task of shifting 5M. m 3of earth by October has been uninterrupted. The activists have turned their attention from the project to planned attacks on the scheme's financiers - Bank of America and Abbey National Treasury Services. On site the mood is upbeat.
The man entrusted with ensuring it remains that way is civil engineer and head of community relations Chris Jackson.
He admits he has a major challenge on his hands pacifying a hostile local community outraged at the prospect of a major source of noise and fume pollution blemishing the green fields north of Birmingham.
'Although the major protest seems to have finished there is still entrenched opposition to the scheme from some local people, ' he says. 'But the attitude is changing towards one of acceptance that the road is going to be built and a wish to be kept informed about the construction process.'
The CAMBBA team is also facing some major construction challenges. 'In some respects it's a nice straightforward piece of highway work but the scale is massive. It's the biggest job around bar CTRL, ' says Jackson.
The immediate challenge is to complete the 10M. m 3muckshift and more than 50 bridges by autumn 2002. This includes three major crossings of railway track which will need possessions from Railtrack. It is hoped that by 2003 the project team will be free to focus on carriageway works prior to completion in 2004 when client Midland Expressway takes over the road under a 53 year concession. Tolls are £2 for cars and £4 for HGVs.
At the north end of the route is a major interchange with the M6 and the A460. Complex water course and utilities diversions will be needed to build an interchange with the A34 and A5 at Cannock. The middle of the route is open in character giving CAMBBA a chance to get on with the earthworks, while at the south end the BNRR converges with the M42 between junctions seven and eight involving complex widening work.
The £485.5M fixed price contract is subject to an 'appropriate amount of risk' including a huge design risk in constructing a 'phenomenal amount of culverts' and over 50 bridges. The 150 strong Arup/WS Atkins design team has simplified the bridge structures by using a reinforced earth abutment design that limits the amount of reinforced concrete work. Off site fabrication of composite steel and reinforced concrete deck will also speed the works.
CAMBBA's timetable for earth moving could prove challenging if last year's record rainfalls are repeated this autumn. It is hoping to move up to half the total this summer with a 108 strong fleet of scrapers, excavators and articulated dump trucks. AMPL - part of Alfred McAlpine - is in charge of the muckshift. 'Having AMPL on board gives us control over how we use materials excavated within the site, ' says Jackson. Sands and gravels from the excavation will be re-used in the scheme for concrete and pavement construction.
The earthworks have been balanced throughout the 43km route by splitting it into four sections and working them concurrently. This will allow teams in one section to be transferred to another in the event of delays.
The intention is that this will avoid problems experienced on the M60 around Manchester where delays resulted from working sections consecutively (NCE 2 November 2000). Staff from each contractor are involved in the four teams.
Environmental manager Tom Lawson has worked closely with environmental health officers representing residents to agree working conditions that enable CAMBBA to fulfil the punishing schedule. Noise limits are strictly imposed and work can only take place from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 1pm on Saturday with no working on Sundays or Bank Holidays. Many residents are veterans of construction work on the nearby M42. They have got to know their rights and are determined to enforce them this time.
As construction kicks in, the charm offensive will continue with Jackson going into schools to emphasise the environmental mitigation CAMBBA has carried out. This ranges from installing bat boxes, translocation of ancient heathland and the discovery of ancient burial sites. He played a similar role on the equally controversial Manchester Airport second runway project and believes civil engineers with this kind of a liaison role should be standard on projects throughout the industry.