Roads & Bridges

When working on road projects, Acciona gives priority to performing detailed environmental studies and designing to minimise impact to the surroundings.

When working on road projects, Acciona gives priority to performing detailed environmental studies and designing to minimise impact to the surroundings.

Towards building models of mobility

When planning and building road projects, it is important to adopt the latest technologies and materials to ensure safer, durable and sustainable infrastructure that respects its environment, says ALVARO AGUILAR, Acciona Middle East business development manager.

February 2020

Road development projects continue to be among the largest infrastructure investments across the GCC region and remain a top priority for governments in line with their urban planning initiatives. Key players driving this sector now need to keep abreast of new developments, adopt the latest materials and digitalisation technologies, use certified products to ensure their durability, and design with the sustainability of the project and its surroundings in mind.

The GCC countries are among the world’s most ambitious when it comes to developing mega infrastructures, driven by the vision to become a regional powerhouse that attracts investments.

Road development is part of the region’s short and long-term economic and social objectives, providing vital links that facilitate development programmes aimed at diversifying non-oil economic activities such as tourism, logistics, and high-value manufacturing, among others.

One of the challenges in bridge construction is to develop techniques that guarantee safer and durable structures.

One of the challenges in bridge construction is to develop techniques that guarantee safer and durable structures.

The impact of these developments should be measured not only in terms of road construction opportunities for the sector, but also with respect to human factors. Large population concentrations need such infrastructure to preserve their social and economic connections and enable smoother business relationships and communication, while benefiting the leisure and tourism sectors.

Road connections are and will remain vital for the purpose of uniting a territory and channelling economic activity to remote points or areas with less activity. Budgets allocated to connect depressed areas will see returns by linking them to economic hubs, which can attract companies and trade.

The GCC currently has an extensive network of roads, bridges and tunnels linking the countries and interconnecting the major trading and leisure hubs. Some of these projects include the Saudi-Oman Highway, a 680-km road that links Oman and Saudi Arabia, which has reduced the previous road distance by 800 km. Another cross-country project was the Mafraq-Ghuwaifat International Highway between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, a $5.3-billion project that links Abu Dhabi to the Saudi border.

The number and scale of road infrastructure development in the UAE makes it one of the most attractive places for the construction industry, with Dubai putting over 21 per cent of its public spending on infrastructure in preparation for the Expo 2020 Dubai.  A major transport link currently in progress to the Expo site is the Dubai Metro Route 2020, where Acciona, a Spanish conglomerate group dedicated to the development and management of infrastructure and renewable energy, is playing a significant role. The project involves the design and construction of 15 km of double-track rail, which 11.8 km is elevated and 3.2 km underground, bored using a tunnel boring machine (TBM). The works additionally comprise seven stations, two of them underground, including the interchange station at Nakheel Harbour and the iconic station at the Expo site.

Looking into the future, plans for expansion of the road links between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain with the new King Hamad Causeway will cater to the growing economic activity between these countries. Likewise, a plan to link Saudi Arabia’s Neom with Egypt through a bridge connection is already on the drawing board.

A TBM working on the Dubai Metro Route 2020.

A TBM working on the Dubai Metro Route 2020.

In shaping the roads to our future, it is important to adopt the latest technologies and materials to ensure safer, durable and sustainable infrastructure that respects its environment – infrastructure that is built efficiently and effectively.

First up is digitalisation. In recent decades, many industries have boosted their productivity by more than 150 per cent, thanks to the new technologies. The construction industry has also begun following this global trend through utilising leading digital applications that enable unprecedented levels of efficiency and improve quality and safety.

Acciona is making extensive use of augmented reality, mixed reality, virtual reality and other innovative techniques that reduce the risk of human errors and the rates of associated incidents/accidents, and minimise construction times. To empower the company in the digital age, Acciona has been focusing on training its professionals to drive them towards this new paradigm.

Another key area of focus for the roads sector is research and innovation in new construction materials and techniques such as 3D printing to produce the effective tools and products required to steer the sector towards higher quality and efficiency. Acciona is investing and committing resources to its growth through its R&D&I division and only utilises materials that have proper certification on its projects.

It’s essential to keep abreast of new developments and apply them swiftly in projects. Also, the relevant knowledge and uses must be generalised to capitalise on their impact to cut costs and boost competitiveness.

One of the challenges in bridge construction is to develop techniques that guarantee safer and durable structures, which is particularly important in locations with extreme weather conditions.  The development of new more resilient materials has thus become a critical issue. The Long Lasting Reinforced Concrete for Energy Infrastructure under severe operating conditions (Lorcenis) project - spearheaded by a consortium of multidisciplinary experts of which Acciona is part – is currently focusing on developing long-lasting reinforced concrete for infrastructures under extreme operating conditions.

The unique characteristics of this new concrete mix are firstly, its capacity of self-diagnosis and capability of providing accurate information concerning its actual state. Secondly, it can prevent cracks using a self-repairing system based on elastomers and hydrogels in a technology that compacts its structure. Thirdly, it is a self-curing material that prevents naturally-occurring shrinkage. Finally, it makes use of specific corrosion-inhibiting additives to provide further protection. With these attributes, the new type of concrete can double the durability of conventional concrete, endowing it with up to 50 per cent increased resistance to extreme temperatures and a similar reduction in chloride ingress. In addition, maintenance costs can be brought down by between 25 and 100 per cent, depending on the environment.

This apart, roads need to set benchmarks for environment-friendliness and designers must consider what damage they can cause to the surroundings. Right from the design phase, Acciona gives priority to performing detailed environmental studies and involves a road designer who specialises in providing solutions that minimise impact. For example, geometric designs help to optimise vehicle speed to prevent spikes in pollution.

So, what does the future have in store? The route is mapped out. Roads will carry not only road traffic, but also data traffic. They will firmly establish themselves as models of mobility and transport in an interconnected network. Sensor-equipped highways will provide and collect information on roads and vehicles that are ever-more autonomous, sustainable and integrated into traffic management platforms. Today, they are already smart. Digitalisation will make them even more so.  




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