Rise in population and car use means new roads are needed

Chronic congestion in most of the region’s urban areas means that road improvement projects are under tremendous pressure to get finished. Construction Week learns how this affects the machines used on site.

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By  Colin Foreman Published  March 12, 2005

Rise in population and car use means new roads are needed |~|Paverbody.jpg|~||~|The region is currently awash with new road projects. In the UAE, Emirates Road is expanding north and will eventually link up with Ras Al Khamiah. With heavy traffic becoming a daily headache, almost every major highway is either in the process of being upgraded or will be upgraded soon. There are also a number of smaller road projects to link up all the new residential and commercial developments to the existing highway system. Major road projects are also underway elsewhere in the region, including a number of primary infrastructure projects in Qatar, and new highways that will serve new development areas in Bahrain. In Saudi Arabia, two expressways running for some 648 km that make up a large part of a new east-west highway project in Jeddah were recently opened. Other projects currently in the pipeline include a new 400 km-long highway linking Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, and a new highway between Abu Dhabi and Fujairah. It is also reported that Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road will need to be expanded to 30 lanes on each side in the next decade to accommodate the emirate’s enormous traffic growth. The findings are said to be the result of comprehensive analyses carried out by Dubai’s authorities, which will allow them to prepare strategic plans to improve the city’s traffic system. Dubai’s population growth currently exceeds 6.5% per year, and the number of registered vehicles is rising by 10% each year. Another major source of work for road contractors is renovation projects, where entire highways have to be relaid while disrupting the existing traffic as little as possible. As the region develops, this type of project will become more commonplace as all the new road projects will require servicing after just two or three years. In terms of machines, a range of equipment is needed when constructing new roads. Initially a new road project is essentially an earthmoving project, where large quantities of material are moved by excavators, dozers, trucks and motor graders to grade the rough course that the road will follow. With modern positioning technology, the grading work can be done very accurately and very quickly, which also helps to save on touch up work at a later date. Once the course has been set, drum rollers are used to compact the loose material and create a firm base for the road to be built on. A wet mix is then added and compacted by a single drum roller before the asphalt is applied using a paving machine. These machines run along the road followed by pneumatic rollers which compact the asphalt as soon as it has been laid. It is vital that this is done properly; if it is done incorrectly, then it will be rejected by the consultant and will have to be redone, creating substantial additional costs. And since most governments in the region regard congestion as an immediate and pressing problem, contractors are under a huge amount of pressure to complete the projects quickly. To make matters worse, there have been situations (such as last year with cement) when there simply wasn’t enough bitumen available in the market. This was because there are currently a lot of road projects underway in Iran, so less bitumen was exported to other Gulf countries. To overcome these delays and still meet their tight programmes, contractors normally adopt round the clock shifts that really test machines to the limit. “The machines work for a minimum of ten hours, seven days a week, which means customer support is very important because they simply can’t afford any downtime,” says Samer Abu Douleh, paving specialist at Mohammed Abdulrahman Al-Bahar/Caterpillar. Efficiency and speed are also important, and newer machines are able to lay asphalt in both directions of a 4 km four-lane highway in just five days. Maintenance and renovation work will become increasingly important for contractors in the future as the number of new roads under development begins to stabilise. This will mean that specialised equipment — like milling machines that remove the upper 4-5 cm of asphalt and then relay it — will become more popular around the region. The machines are already widely used in Saudi Arabia where there are massive renovation projects underway, because they reduce the time taken to relay the road by almost a half, and more than offset their cost. In terms of product development, the pavers used in the region are becoming wider to cope with the bigger roads. Similarly, the heavier pneumatic rollers that were 13 tonnes are now nearer 20 tonnes; and the drum rollers (that used to be static) now vibrate in order to compact more efficiently. Like all other modern construction equipment, operator comfort is also an important issue. The vibrating machines mean that the seats are fitted with shock absorber systems to protect the operator’s spine from vibration, and closed cabs are now popular to shield the operator from the noise and other external elements.||**||

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