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Joint venture gets lean and green

Calgary Roadbuilde tackles challenges


August 12, 2008
By Rock To Road

Topics

18A
new section of the Calgary ring
road demonstrates how today’s
road builders are involved with a
lot more than just construction in our current
environmental, cost and employee climates.

18bA
new section of the Calgary ring
road demonstrates how today’s
road builders are involved with a
lot more than just construction in our current
environmental, cost and employee climates.
The contractor on this project has integrated
significant environmental protection measures into project design, initiated aggressive
cost controls to combat rising fuel prices and
found a new solution to an old labour issue.

Also known as the Northeast Stoney Trail
project, the northeast portion of the Calgary
ring road is a Public Private Partnership (P3)
project valued at $408 million, extending
from Deerfoot Trail, the main north-south
route through Calgary, around the north east
quadrant of the city to 17 Ave. SE. The Alberta government has signed a 30-year contract with the Stoney Trail Group to design,
build, operate and partially finance the project
in a contract that also includes maintenance
of Stoney Trail NW from its junction with
Deerfoot Trail to 16th Ave. NW.

The project itself consists of 21 km of
new four and six lane highway including 23
bridge structures and interchanges at Deer-
foot Trail, Metis Trail, Country Hills Blvd.,
Airport Trail, McKnight Blvd., and 16th Ave.
NE. Construction started in April 2007 and
is scheduled for completion in October 2009.
Completion levels at the end of April 2008
were about 90 per cent for design, 85 per
cent for earthworks, 30 per cent for structures and 5 per cent for roadbase, with paving scheduled to begin later this year. Within
the Stoney Trail Group, Stoney Trail Constructors is a joint venture led by the Flatiron
Constructors Group, with the Graham Group
Ltd. and the Parsons Corporation as partners.
The joint venture’s mandate is to design and
build the new road.

One could be forgiven for thinking that
the location of the new highway would result
in easy roadbuilding, at least from a purely
construction point of view. After all, the project is routed through relatively flat farmland,
with reasonable ground conditions in clay
soil apart from a few isolated outcrops of
sandstone. On the earthworks side, the road is
designed to balance cut and fill quantities, so
there are minimal requirements for imported
fi ll material. Also, there is no live traffic interaction over most of the new road’s length with
the notable exception of its six interchanges.

That first impression is misleading however, as the selected route crosses numerous
objects, both man-made and natural, all of
which have to be either relocated or integrated into the project design. General superintendent Nestor Soroka reports that utilities
crossing or adjacent to the new highway have
presented their share of man made challenges. These include the relocation of 6 km of
gas pipeline, 1 km of oil pipeline, three electricity transmission pylons and up to 8 km of
138 kV transmission line, as well as several
kilometres of electricity distribution line and
fibre optic cable.
18b


More significant still, the road alignment
crosses numerous existing natural wetlands.
Each of these has been assessed by the provincial ministry of the environment and graded on a scale of two to six, according its size
and importance as a plant and animal habitat.
Under a process known as wetlands compensation, the joint venture is replacing wetlands
that are impacted by the project, although the
process involves more than a simple one-for-one replacement of old with new. Depending
on the assigned grading, the required replacement area may be several times larger than
the original wetland and, as a result, some
160 ha of new wetland are being constructed
to replace 50 ha of impacted wetland. In other words, more than three times the original
wetland area is being replaced. The decision
by the joint venture to integrate replacement
wetlands into project’s design has added significantly to both the scale and complexity of
its earthmoving requirements. For example,
new wetlands may be located within the
ramps of a new cloverleaf intersection where
they will form an important part of the over-all water management regime. In addition,
soils removed from existing wetlands require
special treatment as they contain the native
seed mix essential for creating a new wetland
with similar characteristics. All excavated
wetland soils are stockpiled separately and
individually labelled for subsequent reuse in an
appropriate new wetland area.

Battling fuel costs

20Construction manager Dale Gamble ex-
plains that the project involves over 10 million m3 of earthmoving of which about 9
million m3 had been completed at the time of
Aggregates & Roadbuilding’s visit.

To give some idea of the equipment required to deal with these volumes, some of
the bigger mobile pieces on a list running to
some 250 items includes 20 Caterpillar 627,
627F, 627G and 637G scrapers, 12 excavators
including Caterpillar 320CL to 385 units and
an Hitachi EX200LC-2, 21 Caterpillar 735,
740, Volvo A40D and Moxy MT41 articulated dump trucks, six Caterpillar 14H and 16H
graders, 12 Caterpillar dozers ranging in size
from D6R to D10R, as well as six Caterpillar
815 and 825 soil compactors.

Given the scale of project’s earthmoving quantities and equipment fleet, efficient
equipment utilisation is essential, particularly
in light of the recent jump in fuel prices. The
price of dyed diesel has jumped from 65 cents/litre to about $1.04 cents/litre in the year since
the project began. Over the same time frame,
about 9 million litres of fuel have been used
site wide, with the majority of that total consumed by the heavy earthmoving fleet. That
means the jump in fuel cost has added over
$4 million to the contractor’s operating costs
which, with no fuel cost indexing system in
place, represent a direct addition to overall
project cost. In
21bresponse, the joint venture
has implemented a number of aggressive
cost control measures which, collectively,
have virtually offset this increase. Equipment
manager Grant Peterson explains that condition servicing will play a key role in the rising costs of operating equipment Condition
servicing works on the principle that oil stays
in a piece of equipment as long as it can prop-
erly do its lubricating job, instead of the traditional practice of replacing oil according to
a fixed service interval. Regular oil sampling
provides key information on oil condition including its lubricating ability, soot content as
well as metal content that gives early warning
of possible component failures. Micro filters
also have a valuable role here by capturing
very fine contaminants that pass through a
conventional filter. On this contract, several
thousand oil samples have been taken to date,
which together with the use of micro filters,
have allowed oil life to be maximised. Even
when oil changes and other servicing are required, a close watch is being kept on servicing costs, with in-house servicing completed
by two lube trucks, three service trucks and
five service employees.

The Global Positioning System (GPS),
unheard of until the relatively recent past,
is another powerful tool available to equipment managers. These systems can be used
to monitor almost every aspect of a piece
of equipment’s operation, depending on the
level of detail required by its owner. Even
relatively simple systems provide such information as equipment location, running hours,
cycle times, and idle times which can be then
compared to shift hours and specific duty to
verify overall machine efficiency and fuel
consumption. On this project, for example,
the monitoring system indicated that earth-
moving equipment actually operated more efficiently in very cold conditions. This some-what surprising conclusion makes sense on
reflection, as frozen surfaces provide a better
running surface and so deliver shorter cycle
time than soft muddy conditions.

As a footnote on the topic of monitoring
fuel and lubricant costs, Gamble notes that
the joint venture’s fuel purchasing policy is
also an asset. The joint venture has the freedom to buy fuel from any supplier and, by
monitoring the rack prices of fuel suppliers,
suppliers can be changed if necessary.
Employee solution
On the well documented problem of attracting people to the construction business,
Gamble confirms that even Alberta is having
to deal with an aging workforce and a drop in
the number of young applicants: “At the start
of the construction season, we used to have
twenty or thirty people seeking a career in the
construction industry. Now we have just two
or three, and our experience is typical. At the
provincial level, concern has been expressed
that the construction industry simply does not
have the necessary human resources available
to support Alberta’s continuing growth.”

For Gamble at least however, there is
good news on the labour front. The joint venture has been successful in the training and,
equally important, retaining of a new sector
of the workforce. Once an almost exclusively
male work environment, some 20 per cent of
the project’s equipment operators are women.
As Gamble points out, the cab of a modern
articulated dump truck, for instance, is a relatively comfortable work environment with
air ride suspension, climate control and low
effort controls. Not surprisingly, relatively
good pay is also a factor with a current hourly
wage rate for the project’s ADT operators of
$26 and overtime paid at time and a half after eight hours. These numbers can translate
into a solid annual income which compares
favourably to other job options, even in an
overheated Alberta labour market.