Partnering isn't easy; we have to put a lot of effort in, ' says Colin Chadwick, Highways Agency project manager for the A2/M2 widening.
The £125M design and build project is seen by the Agency as a shop window for partnering, and no effort is being spared in ensuring its success. Nightly workshops are held on site to spread the philosophy, starting with senior managers and cascading down to subcontractors.
All staff who attend the workshops have to sign an agreement to be honest, open and co-operative, and to avoid creating a blame culture.
In fact, the site office has been deliberately designed to promote partnering. All four members of the M2 Alliance - the Highways Agency, Maunsell, WS Atkins and contractor CSM (a Costain/Skanska/Mowlem joint venture) - are housed in a long narrow office, with staff grouped by job type rather than affiliation. Most of the staff have only been on site for about two months and are still finding their feet; few have had experience of partnering between so many parties.
The project has been a long time coming: 11 years were spent in preliminary planning while the hybrid Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill - which incorporated the A2/M2 widening - passed through both houses and two parliamentary select committees. During that period Maunsell developed an illustrative design for the road widening project. Once the bill had been passed, the pace of planning increased dramatically to ensure the road scheme could be built at the same time as the CTRL, which is in the same corridor.
There was a year from prequalification to tender, with CSM appointed in November 1999.
'The biggest problem has been to mobilise a big enough design team, ' says Steve Cardwell, design manager for WS Atkins, which is carrying out the detailed design for CSM. Two months into the earthworks on site, and with the detailed design only 50% complete, partnering is seen by the alliance as the only way to get things done.
The job is complex. Parallel widening of a 17km length of the A2/M2 between Cobham Junction and Gillingham requires the complete reconstruction of two motorway junctions and 11 overbridges as well as the construction of a new bridge over the River Medway and strengthening of the existing structure. The new four lane London bound carriageway will be built first and then traffic diverted onto it to allow reconstruction of the existing dual carriageway.
The site runs parallel to the CTRL works for 10km, and at the Medway crossing is only separated by 20m. This has resulted in some mutually beneficial arrangements. The CTRL contractors and CSM share access and haul roads, collaborate over survey data and traffic control, have exchanged materials and land, and the CTRL contractors have had input into the design and construction of junctions.
Colin Chadwick says: 'We are in bed with CTRL.'
Planning the new Medway road bridge required close collaboration to ensure the design was sympathetic to the existing M2 bridge and the adjacent CTRL bridge, which is currently being built.
'We had to get the same vertical alignment, and wanted to avoid a forest of legs, ' explains Chadwick. Virtual reality models were developed to analyse the arrangement of the three parallel bridges from all possible viewpoints.
Perhaps the most significant result of the co-operation between the two adjacent sites is the use of 250,000m Downs tunnel is being placed to form an embankment directly adjacent to the northern tunnel portal. Overall the re-use of material will save 20,000 vehicle movements on local roads. 'Its a win-win situation, ' says Chadwick. 'CTRL avoids tipping and we get good material.'
Chadwick concedes there are some cultural differences between the two parties. 'They are commercial and want to build the CTRL at least cost, ' he says. 'We have a broader duty of care.'
The M2 Alliance is paying CTRL for the fill, and according to Chadwick 'they play hardball'.
Construction of the Medway bridge and junctions 2 and 3 are seen by the Alliance as the most technically challenging aspects of the work.
Of these, junction 3 reconstruction is the most complex, as it involves extensive service diversions and a complex traffic management strategy with 14 different phases.
The existing Medway bridge will be strengthened by placing new cambered deck sections over the old deck.
The M2 borders an area of outstanding natural beauty. As a result, extensive replanting of hazel and sweet chestnut has taken place, and £1.5M was spent translocating soils from an ancient woodland, the largest operation of this kind ever undertaken in the UK.
Relocation of dormice and slow worms has required hands and knees searching; site roads have been re-aligned to avoid badger sets; and badger fencing has been placed around the site.
Good community relations are vital on a job of this scale. A scout camp at Buckmore Park is to be demolished and replaced by a new purpose built facility: and concerns from local residents have resulted in engineers avoiding the use of driven piles on the new Medway bridge.
If everything goes to plan the works are due to be completed at the end of 2002.