Recruitment is occurring at a furious pace to staff the new Scotland TranServ office in Perth.
The Balfour Beatty/ Mouchel Parkman joint venture took over the maintenance and operation of 1,400km of trunk road in north west Scotland on 1 April this year. Its contract runs for five years, with the option of two one year extensions. And it has a lot of work to do.
TranServ technical manager Ian Ross says that much of what is classed as trunk road in the north west would be deemed local road in the rest of Scotland, England and Wales. 'We have a few sections of dual two-lane highway, but most of the network we're responsible for consists of a single lane in either direction.
There are areas where the road width is only 5m. 'What makes these trunk roads is the fact that they're key to linking outlying parts of the Highlands and Islands, ' he says.
Much of the network for which TranServ is responsible winds through hilly terrain. Even in fair weather, motorists frequently misjudge bends and career off the road - and in winter they become snow and ice bound.
Drainage is lacking or inadequate in parts. Rockfall and landslides pose hazards in others. Most of the network is aged: potholes are commonplace, widespread resurfacing is needed in some places, as is carriageway reconstruction.
Meanwhile, the network comes with 1,800 bridges 'and there are four to five times that number of culverts', says Ross. The bridges need general inspections every two years and principal inspections every six.
Meeting the demands of the network means that TranServ is looking out for engineers: 'We need people to carry out inspections and design - so we're looking for geotechnical and bridge engineers in particular.' Other design tasks include identifying the most dangerous sections of highway, putting in new posts and chevrons on bends, white lining, and building new overtaking lanes .
The joint venture is also bidding for the north east Scotland management contract, which, if secured, will require it to grow by at least 50%.
The client is the newly created Transport Scotland, part of the Scottish Executive.
Bidders for the maintenance and operation contract had to pass a quality threshold, but thereafter selection was on lowest price, says national roads network manager John Gooday. TranServ's contract is based on a fixed price for winter maintenance, such as snow clearing, gritting and salting. All other items are paid against a schedule of rates.
'We have to provide construction, consultancy services, customer service, network management and routine maintenance, ' says Ross.
Construction covers all routine work under £250,000 in value and improvement schemes up to £1.5M. Projects above that go out to competitive tender, either by contractors on an approved list or through the European Union's Of cial Journal.' Gooday says a new 'thirdgeneration' contract has been drawn up for TranServ, which will be used when the other three regional maintenance contracts are let this year and next. Principal differences to the second-generation contracts used for the past five years are in the IT requirements.
Contractors have been tasked to develop management software that will enable them to keep a record of asset condition and programme work, and log when and at what cost it is carried out.
Previous contractor for the north west, Bear Scotland, had difculty meeting the client's performance targets. TranServ network manager Bruce Rushton says that the problems stemmed in part from changes in the way the trunk road network was managed.
First-generation ontracts, 10 years ago, introduced competition to road maintenance and operation. Councils bid against private sector joint ventures, and won all of the contracts. When the contracts were re-tendered five years later and Bear and Amey cleaned up, the councils were miffed, Rushton says.
Gooday onrms that the private sector rms were obstructed when they took over councils, which refused to share depots and machinery, and clung on to key staff.
The hand over from Bear to TranServ has been far smoother, with staff transferred across and the councils now sharing maintenance depots.
TranServ has invested heavily to meet the demands, of winter maintenance.