Silverstone may be celebrated as the home of British motor racing, but it is also home to a rather less publicised motoring fact. The A43, linking the M1 and M40, which every year carries 200,000 avid Formula 1 fans to the British Grand Prix, has the dubious honour of being one of the most dangerous roads in Britain.
The 38km A43 is a mixture of single and dual carriageway. In the three years from 1997 to 1999, there were 121 personal injury accidents on the 15km single carriageway stretch from Towcester to Brackley alone.
Nine of these were fatal.
Clearly something had to be done, and dualling of the three single-carriageway sections was placed on the Highways Agency's Targeted Programme of Improvement, scheduled between 2000 and 2002. In fact, together with Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire County Councils, the Agency had been working on the scheme for more than a decade, with public inquiries carried out as early as 1991.
'We calculate that over 30 years these improvements will produce a saving of 3,000 personal injury accidents and 90 fatalities, ' explains Highways Agency project manager Graham Wright.
'In terms of justification, the safety benefits are so high that you would have to treble the costs to outweigh them.'
Originally the work was to be let as three separate contracts.
This plan was based on preliminary designs carried out by Northamptonshire CC for a 7.9km bypass around Silverstone village and a 4.5km stretch from Whitfield Turn to Brackley Hatch, plus work by consultant White Young Green on behalf of Oxfordshire CC for a 6.5km stretch from the M40.
However, the Agency decided to combine all three into one 18.9km project: 'With the opportunities for economies of scale, combined traffic management and optimised material usage, we decided to complete the dualling as one package, ' explains Wright.
The project formally went to tender as a design and build contract in April 2000, and was awarded in November to a Costain Skanska joint venture (CSJV) for a £66.5M contract price. An incentivised programme was put in place, with 84 weeks allowed for design and construction to ensure completion in time for the British Grand Prix in July 2002. White Young Green was retained by the Agency as employers agent.
Despite the immense road safety advantages offered, there were many obstacles, particularly concerning conservation and ecology (see box), and the impact of the works on Silverstone circuit.
As well as the Grand Prix, there are 12 other Category One events on the motor racing calendar, all of which restrict working. All take place during the peak construction period - summer.
To ensure that all these issues would be properly addressed, the contract award was slanted 55:45 in favour of quality, explains Wright.
To minimise noise pollution, most of the scheme is being constructed in deep cutting, but this in turn means that 1.5M. m 3ofearth has to be taken off site.
With the A43 already heavily congested - it has a peak hour flow in one direction of 1,150 vehicles/hour - the Agency was keen to avoid transporting materials away by road.
Instead, after much consultation with local land owners and farmers, the joint venture proposed using farmland adjacent to the works to dispose of the earth in contiguous bunds. The landfill will be contoured and the topsoil replaced so that to the casual observer the impression will be that nothing has changed.
'At tender we took a calculated risk that we would get planning permission, ' says CSJV project manager Alan Kay. 'Fortunately the county council was understanding. You have to look at it globally: it minimises damage to the environment, and the farmers don't get a conventional crop this year but they get paid for tipping.'
The farmers are not the only ones to benefit. Because the landfill sites are classed as adjacent to the works, CSJV will avoid paying landfill tax, saving hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The 84 week programme allowed for much of the preliminary design to be carried out over the winter allowing a significant start on site in the spring.
However, construction was no sooner under way than it was halted with the red flag to end them all - foot and mouth disease. Two local outbreaks put the entire site in an infected area and work ground to a halt on 26 February, delaying the project for 13 weeks until early May.
'The plan was to have the site clearance and fencing done by March to allow the bulk of the earthworks, drainage and pavement laying to be completed by November, ' explains Kay. 'This forced a major rethink.'
At this point the partnering approach, adopted from the start, came to the rescue. 'The first rule of partnering is that you cannot let things run their course, ' says Wright. What emerged was a 'reasonable endeavours programme'.
The CSJV agreed to a reprogramming and re-sequencing that would retain the concept of completing the bulk of the earthworks in one summer season.
To do this, CSJV committed to paying for extra and larger capacity earthmoving plant, more teams and night shifts where appropriate. At the same time the Agency agreed to a change in pavement design.
The planned composite pavement was scrapped in favour of a fully flexible design. Study of historical weather records showed that winter temperatures in the area frequently fell below 4infinityC;
too cold to pour concrete. But asphalt can be laid to in temperatures as low as 0infinityC, which gave the team a better chance of maintaining productivity during the winter period.
'We are spending £1 to save £5. Using a fully flexible pavement will cost us more, but will save money in the long-term, ' explains Agency regional director Bill Waldrup.
It is a similar situation for CSJV. 'The contractor will get reimbursed on delay costs, but the Agency did not direct acceleration of the job, ' says Waldrup.
'He will take the risk of extra staff and resources in the interests of more efficient construction, by reducing the risk of time and winter working.'
Wright adds: 'All this means we can achieve an end date similar to the original one, and still be ready for the next Grand Prix.'
With the earthworks advancing well, the indications are that his prophecy will be proved correct.
Protecting the land
Dormice, great crested newts and iron age settlements were all serious ecological and archaeological constraints that had to be considered by the A43 Highways Agency/Costain Skanska Joint Venture partnership.
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Protection Act 1981, the Agency has been tackling the issue of dormice, great crested newts and badgers living in Hazelborough Wood since 1995, when it started a six year translocation programme.
The Agency's method of progressively enhancing the deep wood while sacrificing the areas on the proposed route of the road has proved so successful that it has now become a model for projects across the UK.
Archaeological concerns also played a part, the A43 having been a major transport corridor as far back as the Iron Age. Several points along the proposed route were chosen by the Agency's own archaeologists as possible sites of interest.
These were cleared and fenced off separately from most of the works, to allow archaeologists and ecologists to examine the earth carefully as it is removed.
This approach hit pay dirt at the junction of the A43 and A413 north of Silverstone village, where excavations turned up an iron age infant burial site.
Works were rescheduled to give a team of 15 archaeologists maximum time to dig while having a minimal impact on the overall project programme.
'It is amazing what you have to do now, ' says Kay. 'No longer do you just rip out and put up fences.'
With the many complex challenges posed by the A43 project, the Highways Agency decided from the outset to use a partnering approach, says Wright.
'We wanted 'strong' partnering, so right at the start we had a highlevel seminar with representatives from the Highways Agency, White Young Green, Northamptonshire County Council, Costain Skanska joint venture, CSJV designer Mott MacDonald and CSJV earthworks subcontractor Walters UK.'
And it is working, with not even the problems thrown up by foot and mouth disease throwing the good relations off course. 'We freely talk over issues and everything is out in the open.
If there is a problem, no matter whose it is, we want it solved for the least money, ' says Kay.
Key to partnering is trust, and trust is self-certification, says Wright. The CSJV bid was based on exactly that, with a high-level of self-assessment and the client's agent White Young Green mainly auditing procedures rather than process. 'We are getting away from people watching people watching people, ' he says. 'We have our ups and downs, but it is heading in the right direction.'
'The natural human reaction is not to acknowledge when you fail, but now our people recognise that this is not the way, ' says Kay. 'It is important to make it [self assessment] work, as this is the future of the industry.'