Building the new A14: country's largest road project is 'running just like clockwork'
A year on and the UK's largest road development is well on track for delivery by the end of 2020.
The 21-mile upgrade of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon, including a 17-mile Huntingdon bypass, is being constructed by 2,200 people against a rigorous timetable that sees the four-year project planned down to 30-minute intervals.
As the winter descends, frost and high winds will create extra challenges for diggers (which have moved 2.5million cubic metres of soil already, the equivalent of 1,000 Olympic swimming pools) and the 300-tonne cranes that are lifting 40 tonne steel girders into place for 34 new bridges.
Eric Milne, senior works manager at Skanska, said: “It’s exciting. I’ve been with this company 32 years and you don’t get many of these jobs. It’s the biggest job since motorways have been built.
“This is a huge construction project, and a massive investment for the area, and it will open up Cambridge to the midlands and coast and will make this place more vibrant.”
More than a quarter of the project’s main construction work is complete, having taken 3million working hours up to this point. There are 34 bridges and structures being built, including the 750m River Great Ouse viaduct, which is about 80 per cent complete.
The Cambridge Independent was taken along the new A1 that will run underneath a bridge carrying the A14 at Brampton.
Jim McNicholas, project director at Skanska, said of the bridge: “It’s the first bit of structural steel on the job. The bridge is heavily skewed which makes the width of the bridge a lot bigger than it would be if it were at 90 degrees to the road. It’s skewed so traffic can come over at 70 miles per hour.”
The bridge has been designed to be able to bear the load of fully-laden, parked articulated lorries, and then some.
More than 2,500,000m³ of soil have been moved, a quarter of the total amount needed for the project
3,000,000 hours have been worked on the project since the start of construction
35,000m³ of concrete has been poured to make bridge parts and road foundations
400 pieces of heavy plant, including 100 dump trucks, are used on-site every day
One completed bridge has opened to traffic, 570 bridge piles have been installed, 104 bridge piers have been built and 74 bridge beams placed
Almost 26 of the 70 miles (112km) of utility services (such as gas, water, broadband) have been diverted away from the route of the new A14
“The trickiest bit is keeping the traffic running,” Mr McNicholas continued. “It’s not so bad here because we’re off the road now, but we’re getting to the point when we’re going to start bringing the A1 traffic across, which is done in a number of stages, and it’s tricky making sure that it works so that you don’t have an enormous queue.”
Much of the material being used for construction is being excavated from six ‘borrow pits’, near the road, which means materials don’t need to be delivered from elsewhere.
The material is used at a ‘factory’ that has been designated alongside the road where the concrete sections that will be laid on the viaduct are being cast. Each of these sections is latticed with steel that has to be placed to a 10mm margin of error so that each section can slot together like a giant 3D jigsaw.
The ‘muck-shifting’ season will start again in March, so progress may slow down over winter, but everything is on schedule.
Mr Milne said: “We have progress meetings every week, we’ve got our programme down to half-hour slots.
“We will know if we’re half an hour late on something, and what we have to do to bring that back. It’s all about sequences and planning. We can be credited for so much good work but if we hold up the customer on a Monday morning going to work, a good weekend’s work is not a good weekend’s work.
“We know at any one time if we’re late and what we need to do to put it right.”
David Bray, A14 project director at Highways England, said: “This is a huge amount of progress, and we are well on the way to transforming journeys on this vital link between East Anglia and the Midlands, connecting businesses, communities and families.
“We’re doing our very best to keep disruption to a minimum, which is no small feat when building 21 miles of new road – some of it around a very busy existing road – in record time!”