Construction of Britain's first tolled motorway is off to a flying start on the back of successful integration of an extensive management team and good fortune. Jon Masters reports.
Projects on a scale of the M6 Toll, Birmingham's northern relief road, need strong management and a degree of luck. The M6 Toll, which at £485.5M is the largest single UK road contract to date, has both, as four of Britain's largest contractors push on with a construction programme blessed by last year's relatively dry weather.
Construction by the CAMBBA consortium of Carillion, Alfred McAlpine, Balfour Beatty and Amec started in March 2001 for 50 year concession holder Midland Expressway Ltd (MEL).
The job is big enough to be split into four sections, each with over £100M of work and a discrete construction team.
The overall management structure is flat, however, with construction just one of a number of departments, all reporting to CAMBBA's M6 Toll project director Paul Neal.
Fresh from a similar role on the Balfour Beatty/Carillion built Cardiff Bay Barrage, Neal knows all about joint ventures, as do many of his CAMBBA colleagues.
'The scale of this job lends itself to separation into sections, but this is one project and MEL needs a single point of responsibility, ' says Neal. 'The contract has been procured this way because the entire motorway must open in one go to allow collection of tolls.
'Definition of completion is the first money taken at the toll gates and the whole job must come in on time. The target date is at the end of January 2004, after which we will be paying liquidated damages of £164,000 for each day the opening is delayed.'
Neal is responsible for controlling and disseminating policy set by the project board. He is supported by a nine strong core team, which includes construction director Colin Duff of Carillion, whose CV includes delivery of Canary Wharf station on the Jubilee Line extension in joint venture with Bachy Soletanche.
Head of project finance and administration Glenn Saunders is also on secondment from Carillion. And community relations head Chris Jackson has joined CAMBBA after project managing Manchester airport's second runway for Amec (in joint venture with Carillion) - a job which called for diligent communication with public and press (NCE 21 June 2001).
Detailed design is being carried out by an Ove Arup/WS Atkins joint venture, whose line of responsibility back to the core team is provided by CAMBBA's design manager Allan Hargreaves of Carillion. Neal's primary tier of management is completed by chief engineer Jonathan Jones (Alfred McAlpine), design manager Allan Hargreaves (Carillion), security manager Alistair Jack (Amec), commercial head Martin Faulkner and manager of integrated management systems (IMS) Nick Ray (Amec).
Ray's team is overseeing use and records of quality, safety and environmental management systems across all four sections of the M6 Toll. In similar fashion, a single earthworks team is co-ordinating the massive muckshift programme throughout the 43km route between the M6 at Cannock north of Wolverhampton and the M6/M42 interchange east of Birmingham.
'We achieved around 7M. m 3during the 2001 muckshift programme, ' says Neal. 'Our target was 5.5M. m 3, about half the total for the job, but a dry autumn allowed us to extend the expected March to October earthworks season into December.'
Overall, the muckshift is balanced in cut and fill. This includes the winning of large quantities of sand and gravel from borrow pit areas in sections one and three. The granular material is being used for fill and concrete and pavement aggregate. Borrow pits will be backfilled with material unsuitable for use on site.
Periods of relatively dry weather towards the end of 2001 allowed the team to crack on with the mining operation and use the material to create reinforced earth bridge abutments and approach embankments. The result is an earnest winter attack on structures work.
Fortune has favoured the M6 Toll programme from the start: as fencing had been completed prior to last year's foot and mouth outbreak, regulations allowed work to progress if access was direct to public highway.
If the luck continues and completion of the fixed price contract comes in ahead of time, M6 Toll could be a big earner for CAMBBA.
Progress report Section one Section one runs from a new interchange with the M6 near Cannock to the first toll station for south eastbound traffic at Great Wryley.
The 6km section contains a high concentration of civils work including the M6 interchange and a significant pinchpoint at Churchbridge junction. Here the M6 Toll route is crossed by a railway line, overhead power line, the A5 and A34, all within a 1.5km urban area.
Section one team leader is Alex Watts, who project managed Amec's £30M design and build Doncaster North Bridge contract.
'We have a lot of work on, especially at Churchbridge.
Construction of a 100m three span railway bridge is continuing in readiness for steel erection in the spring. And we have started earthworks and utility diversions within a series of traffic management phases.
'We are also co-ordinating with the National Grid authorities to move electricity pylons, while cracking on with piling works for a bridge to take the A5 and A34 over the new road.
'The emphasis is now on hitting the remaining structures so we can complete the bulk earthworks during the coming muckshift season.
Section two Substantial environmental mitigation work has been carried out ahead of earthworks on section two, which passes through a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) close to Chasewater reservoir and leisure park.
Turf from heathland has been removed from the path of the M6 Toll and relaid at a new receptor site north of Chasewater reservoir.
The leisure park's Chasewater Light Railway has been moved clear of the new motorway and seed harvested from the SSSI for replanting during landscaping.
Section two is mostly in cut, and according to team leader John Harrison, the 2M. m 3of earthworks achieved in 2001 is ahead of the planned half way mark.
'We have around 10km of side road diversions and construction in this section, as well as structures to build and more environmental work, ' says Harrison, who joined CAMBBA after project managing the A40 Carmarthen southern bypass for Alfred McAlpine.
Section three Section three team leader Mark Park has the longest stretch of carriageway. His section is 15.5km long, mostly in greenfield and relatively straightforward, he says.
'There is a lot of simplicity to section three, although structures work is a bit behind schedule due to difficulties with gaining access and service diversions. But we are pressing on with bridges and drainage and just one quarter of our total muckshift remains for the second earthmoving season.'
Most of the Alfred McAlpine team that worked on construction of the M60 from Denton to Medlock near Manchester (in joint venture with Amec) is now working on the M6 Toll, including Park, who project managed the M60 job.
His section runs alongside a number of watercourses including Colletts Brook. 'Pollution of watercourses is being prevented with a number of temporary settlement lagoons and addition of floculents.'
Section four Traffic management (TM) phasing is critical in section four as the M6 Toll merges with the M42 along most of its 6km length before rejoining the M6. Effectively a motorway widening job with construction of new junctions and sliproads, section four involves earthworks, extensions to existing structures and the building of new bridges in five main TM phases.
'Completion of all planned work within the TM phases to ensure the phasing stays on programme represents our biggest challenge, ' says section four team leader Gary Crisp. 'Problems with services have delayed some structures, but we are confident that we can stick to the programme.
'Earthworks exceeded expectations and we have managed to get an early start on one new bridge, which will reduce one TM phase on the M6.'
Crisp has been seconded to CAMBBA from Carillion. Previous experience includes widening of the M40, and more recently, enabling works for overhead line improvements on the West Coast Main Line upgrade.