The Road Ahead
India has the second largest road network in the world, spanning an estimated 6.4 million km. Highway construction in the country increased at a 17-per-cent CAGR between FY2016 and FY2021. Despite the pandemic and lockdowns, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) exceeded the target for FY2021 and constructed 13,298 km of National Highways last fiscal, as per an IBEF report. Further, the plan is to construct 40 km of highways every day in the current year, beating its daily record of 37 km per day from 2019-20.
Increased investmentsRoads have been a key focus area for budget allocations over the years.
India has the second largest road network in the world, spanning an estimated 6.4 million km. Highway construction in the country increased at a 17-per-cent CAGR between FY2016 and FY2021. Despite the pandemic and lockdowns, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) exceeded the target for FY2021 and constructed 13,298 km of National Highways last fiscal, as per an IBEF report. Further, the plan is to construct 40 km of highways every day in the current year, beating its daily record of 37 km per day from 2019-20. Increased investments Roads have been a key focus area for budget allocations over the years. A total of 200,000 km of National Highways is expected to be completed by 2022. The Government of India has allocated Rs 111 trillion (US$ 1.4 trillion) under the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) for FY2019-25. Of this, the roads sector is likely to account for 18 per cent capital expenditure. Under the Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase-I A, a total length of 34,800 km road projects has been proposed to be constructed with an estimated outlay of Rs 5.35 trillion ($ 74.15 billion). In Union Budget 2021-22, the Government has allocated Rs 10.82 billion ($ 14.85 billion) to MoRTH. Minister for Road Transport & Highways and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Nitin Gadkari has announced a target of road construction worth Rs 15 trillion in the next two years. Further, with the Government permitting 100 per cent FDI in the roads sector, several foreign companies have formed partnerships with Indian players. Breaking records Last fiscal, the National Highways sector thumbed its nose at COVID-19 and delivered a stellar performance, riding on higher project awards, record construction, and traffic that surpassed pre-pandemic levels once lockdowns were lifted in the second half. Despite the pandemic, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) awarded projects totaling 4,818 km last fiscal—a three-fiscal high, as per a CRISIL report. Further, the authority constructed 4,192 km of National Highways in FY2020-21. Notably, this is the highest ever highway construction achieved in a financial year by NHAI (see interview of NHAI chairman). States with the largest share Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Rajasthan account for a significantly high share of more than 420 projects (45 per cent) under construction and yet to commence construction under the EPC and HAM models of the NHAI. High-value expressways awarded, such as Delhi-Vadodara-Mumbai, Amritsar-Jamnagar and Bengaluru-Chennai, are expected to drive investments, according to CRISIL’s report. The report highlights that Uttar Pradesh accounts for 15 per cent of the country’s under-construction projects and 5 per cent of yet-to-commence projects with a cumulative value of ~Rs 450 billion. Maharashtra has a higher share of yet-to-commence projects at 17 per cent and 12 per cent of under-construction projects with a cumulative value of Rs 490 billion. Karnataka and Rajasthan, too, have Rs 300 billion and Rs 290 billion worth of projects under construction, respectively. Favourable modes Last November, Gadkari announced a large financial relief package of Rs 80 billion ($ 1.08 billion) to meet the working capital requirements of contractors. Also, favourable changes in BOT and HAM agreements and relaxation of bidder eligibility criteria indicated a clear policy shift last fiscal to improve private-sector participation. GRAPH on More project awards: HAM gaining share, and BOT making a comeback after MCA amendments Infrastructure development company Dilip Buildcon Ltd (DBL) largely focuses on the EPC business than owning assets in the BOT model. Generally, DBL works 50:50 in the EPC and HAM models and plans to continue the same. “In the HAM mode, the company has to invest money as share capital whereas EPC does not require such investment. Unlike EPC, HAM has always had the opportunity for the investor to get a decent return on investment by way of sale of assets or floating assets on the InvIT [infrastructure investment trust] platform,” says Devendra Jain, CEO & Whole-Time Director. DBL’s total revenue for FY2021 is Rs 92.38 billion, of which road and bridge projects comprise about ~83 per cent, or Rs 76.52 billion. The company expects this trend to continue. It is currently executing one of NHAI’s biggest contracts: the six-lane Bengaluru-Nidaghatta-Mysuru Road stretch of 117 km worth Rs 45 billion. Meanwhile, NCC has opted for an asset-light strategy; the company focuses only on EPC projects. “In EPC, litigations are comparatively low,” says Raghu Alluri, Director, NCC, adding that the meticulous approach of assessing design and construction risks will reduce risk potential in EPC projects. NCC is currently constructing Package 3 of the Maharashtra Samruddhi Mahamarg from 89.300 km to 162.667 km (Ashta to Wadhona Ramnath) in Amravati district on EPC mode and has completed over 80 per cent work (see more on the project in box on Biggest Road and Bridge Projects Under Construction). Other key under-construction projects for NCC include the double-deck flyover from Gandhi Chowk to Nagarpalika Chowk in Chhapra Town of Saran district under the Central Road Fund, for which it has completed nearly 40 per cent work; and the Elevated Corridor (flyover) from Damoh Naka to Ranital Chowk to Madan Mahal Chowk in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, on EPC mode (10 per cent completed). PNC Infratech’s EPC and HAM projects are currently evenly distributed in terms of both value and revenue generation. “We will continue to have equal preference for EPC and HAM mode projects, with BOT-Toll being less preferred,” adds Yogesh Kumar Jain, Managing Director. Expressways and highways, including bridges and flyovers, will continue to be the key focus area for the company. “We foresee these projects contributing over 90 per cent of our construction revenues this year,” he adds. PNC Infratech’s HAM portfolio comprises 11 highway projects of NHAI with an aggregate bid project cost of over Rs 160 billion. Nine of these are under construction, of which three projects are expected to be operationalised shortly. The firm’s EPC portfolio also comprises 11 projects, five of which are expressway packages, as part of Purvanchal (Lucknow-Ghazipur) of Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA), Samruddhi Mahamarg (Nagpur-Mumbai) of Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and Delhi-Mumbai of NHAI. HAM hiccups While HAM is a preferred mode for contractors and is expected to edge ahead, it comes with its own share of hiccups. Last fiscal, NHAI’s HAM project auctions saw increased competition following relaxation of bidder eligibility criteria. Smaller regional players cornered 33 per cent of the HAM projects awarded. Though their bids are not aggressive, financial closures and project execution will remain key monitorables going forward. HAM project developers saw an average delay of three to four months in achieving financial closure compared to the stipulated time. But the 37 per cent completed projects—awarded over fiscals 2016-18—have been largely executed on time. About 55-60 cent of these were executed six months ahead of schedule on average, while the rest lagged by the same amount of time, notes the CRISIL report. Land acquisition issues were persistent even before the pandemic. As many as 35-40 per cent of the projects were granted the appointed date ~16 months after the project award and a few were terminated earlier because of land-related glitches. As many as 45-50 per cent of under-construction projects awarded between fiscals 2016 and 2018 are delayed by eight to nine months on average, largely because of descoping/delinking, and financing issues pertaining to a few developers. A large chunk—66 per cent of projects awarded over fiscals 2019-2021—are yet to commence construction awaiting financial closures and appointed dates. Under-construction projects face labour issues following the pandemic. The Government’s steps to extend milestones and scheduled completion dates, ranging from three to six months, provides them a cushion. Asset monetisation for EPC companies Asset monetisation will gather pace in the roads sector as EPC companies pursue growth backed by the Government’s thrust to the sector, according to CRISIL Ratings. “Revenue of these large road EPC companies will increase a handsome ~15 per cent this fiscal and sustain the strong growth trajectory over the medium term,” says Anuj Sethi, Senior Director, CRISIL Ratings. “This is backed by a healthy order book, which is expected to remain 3-3.5 times’ revenue over the medium term. These companies will focus on asset monetisation, which will enable them to maintain their credit profiles while scaling up.” The asset monetisation potential is supported by healthy investor interest either through investment at asset level, or InvITs. “We foresee monetisation potential at ~Rs 72,000 crore (enterprise value) for NHAI and private developers, which can be realised through InvITs, private sale and toll-operate-transfer models (TOTs) over the next three years,” says Anand Kulkarni, Director, CRISIL Ratings. “The capital so unlocked will be available to accelerate award of projects under the Bharatmala Pariyojana and support growth of EPC companies.” The expectation of asset monetisation is also supported by the past performance of road EPC companies. Between fiscals 2016 and 2021, sale of assets to InvITs or private equity (PE) funds helped unlock ~Rs 800 billion of enterprise value for the sector. Around 60 per cent of this was through four InvITs. The funds released strengthened their balance sheets.Pandemic challenges Short-term disruption of construction activities was reported in most sites owing to restrictions, a spike in COVID-19 related cases and labour returning to their native places. Curfews and night-time lockdowns have impacted the movement of materials, says Alluri. Yogesh Kumar Jain expects it to take a minimum of two to three months for migrant labour to return to sites to near normal strength. Rising cost of raw materials Another major challenge is the shortage or unavailability of raw construction materials. Limited supply has further led to a price rise, especially in the case of cement and steel. “There has been a steep increase in the price of materials, around 50-100 per cent, such as steel, cement, PVC pipes and insulation materials,” notes Alluri. For his part, Yogesh Kumar Jain says that although there is no significant shortage of steel, cement and bitumen currently, prices are still on an upward spiral. “The continuous and steep rise in oil prices is another major concern as it has a widespread cascading effect,” he observes. Acknowledging the unprecedented surge in the price of cement and steel, Gadkari has been quite vocal about cartelisation, criticising manufacturers for increasing prices. “People [cement and steel companies] are taking advantage of the system, which is not correct. We need to take a stand on this issue,” he said at a recent virtual event. Gadkari also mentioned that MoRTH has set up a committee under the chairmanship of K Venkataramana of L&T to reduce dependency on cement and steel and promote the use of alternative materials that will help reduce construction cost without compromising on quality, such as fly ash, plastic waste, geosynthetics and steel fibres, in highway construction. Citing the examples of Singapore and Malaysia, he said these countries are using precast with steel fibres for bridge piers instead of steel. Similarly, using fly ash in place of concrete is desirable. The Indian Roads Congress (IRC) will also be setting up a committee of experts to find alternatives to cement and steel for road construction. The IRC has also approved allowing the use of coir geotextile for road construction, which will improve the strength of roads. What lies ahead? Despite the stellar performance of the sector once the lockdowns were lifted in the second half of last fiscal, has the second wave of infections dampened this momentum? While he agrees there was revival, Yogesh Kumar Jain avers, “The pace of construction would certainly have been better without challenges like shortage of key highway construction materials and a steep rise in their prices.” Further, April, May and the majority of June are always considered favourable months for construction; however, the fiercer second wave has severely dampened this momentum. “Now, when the pandemic is receding, the monsoons have already arrived,” he notes. “Nonetheless, we are hopeful of accelerated revival of activities after the monsoon and promising performance in the second half of the current fiscal.” According to Devendra Jain, “The second wave may not have a material bearing on growth for the current fiscal. We have learnings from the first wave and have improved our preparedness in terms of labour and raw material availability, so scaling up can happen once the economy opens up again. The momentum in the second half of last year was continued during this second wave with less impact as the supply chain was continued and labour migration was also not so heavy comparatively. Nonetheless, construction at site was slow owing to higher level of fear among workmen, which has impacted the first half of this financial year.” But he is positive the second half will see a ramp-up. All considered, given the acceleration in project awards, sharper focus on resolving land acquisition issues and the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiatives to ease liquidity for road EPC players, the pace of construction is expected to continue to increase to bridge India’s road gap. “We are planning to award projects worth around Rs 2.25 trillion in the current fiscal.” - Dr. Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, Chairman, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) Despite losing the best construction months to the COVID-19 related lockdown, NHAI constructed 4,192 km of National Highways in FY2020-21—the highest ever highway construction achieved in a financial year by NHAI. At 4,192 km, the pace increased by 5 per cent in 2020-21 compared to 3,979 km in 2019-20 and 24 per cent more than 3,380 km in 2018-19. Considering construction in lane kilometre, NHAI has constructed 18,500 lane km during FY2020-21, tallying over 50 lane km per day. This is 40 per cent more than the 13,243 lane km constructed in FY2019-20 and 91 per cent more in comparison to the 9,684 km constructed in FY2018-19. How was this achieved? “During the first wave of COVID-19 last year, NHAI remained persistent in working diligently towards creating National Highway infrastructure. We have successfully overcome the challenges of the pandemic and related situations in 2020. Like last year, we are fully committed to complete our projects in a timebound manner with least impact from the pandemic,” says Dr. Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, Chairman, NHAI. He shares more on NHAI’s plans and targets in an exclusive interview with SERAPHINA D’SOUZA. How have you been able to achieve a decent pace of construction despite labour shortage, raw material supply issues and other challenges amid the pandemic? NHAI has been trying to speed up construction in brownfield projects. Many such projects require working on running roads, which at times hampers speed of construction. We are trying to turn the pandemic into an opportunity for construction and have issued instructions to our field offices to make most of this time to speed up construction work wherever possible, as traffic is low owing to COVID-19 related restrictions. Also, adequate arrangements were made for workers to avoid migration. NHAI has ensured safety of the workforce by mandating COVID protocols at work sites and provided masks and sanitisers. NHAI and its concessionaires have also provided adequate medical aid, food and shelter wherever required. The workforce also realise that all these facilities may not be so easily available if they choose to go back to their villages. We have also got support from the district administration in making the required arrangements for workers. NHAI has been trying its level best to ensure that construction work continues at sites that are not under lockdown by ensuring proper precautions as per the COVID-19 protocol because livelihood of the poor is also important. As the number of cases are coming down in different states, we are sure that speed of construction will pick up and we will be able to achieve the targets this year too. What are the targets for award and construction this year? NHAI awarded projects worth Rs 1.71 trillion in 2020-21. Exceeding the 4,500 km project award target, NHAI awarded 141 projects totalling 4,788 km in 2020-21. The share of EPC in the contract award last fiscal was the highest at about 50 per cent, followed by HAM at about 49 per cent; two projects were awarded through the BOT model. For FY2021-22, we are planning to award projects worth around Rs 2.25 trillion. NHAI has set a highway construction target of 4,600 km and HAM is expected to have the largest share of awards, followed by EPC. BOT is likely to gain momentum to constitute between 5-10 per cent of the award basket. Last fiscal, favourable changes were made to improve participation from the private sector, such as the BOT and HAM models and relaxation of bidder eligibility criteria. What are your views on PPP? Highway construction by the private sector on the PPP model had come to a halt in the past few years and we are in the process of reviving this through the BOT (Toll) system. This year, NHAI has awarded two projects on BOT (Toll) mode in West Bengal. We got an encouraging response from the leading concessionaires. This has encouraged us and now we will be coming up with a pipeline of projects to be bid out on BOT. This revival in interest is majorly because of the recently amended Model Concession Agreement (MCA). The new MCA has more attractive terms for concessionaires and more appropriate risk-sharing under the BOT (Toll) system. NHAI has also been taking several steps for faster settlement of claims and disputes…. For faster settlement of claims and reduce liabilities, NHAI has rigorously started the process of conciliation by constituting three Conciliation Committees of Independent Experts (CCIE) of three members each. These Committees are being headed by retired officials from the judiciary and senior experts from public administration, finance and the private sector. In fact, we are asking all contractors and concessionaires to come for conciliation for faster settlement of claims. NHAI started this initiative in FY2017-18. Since then, 175 cases have been referred to CCIE. To date, 103 cases of claims by contractors, worth over Rs 250 billion, have been successfully settled for an amount of about Rs 90 billion. During the last financial year, NHAI launched a drive to bring maximum ongoing arbitration or court matters under the ambit of conciliation as well as to complete all ongoing CCIE matters in a timebound manner. We have settled a record number of 60 cases for Rs 53.12 billion against a claimed amount of Rs 142.06 billion in 2020-21. What about solutions to help resolve land acquisition issues? Land acquisition has been a major cause of delay of National Highway projects. Hence, we have decided that no project will be awarded unless minimum 90 per cent land is acquired for EPC and BOT projects and 80 per cent for HAM projects. The remaining land is made available within the next six months. All the clearances for forest, wildlife or environment and estimates for utility shifting are also taken before we award the project. The process of project appraisal is also commenced at the earliest on receipt of the final Detailed Project Report (DPR) and technical schedules. NHAI has decided that all new proposals for construction and development of National Highways will be examined by a committee to approve the land acquisition plan and alignment, based on viability of the projects. NHAI has been leveraging technology to enhance transparency and accountability. The entire project management workflow of NHAI has been transformed from manual to a unique Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered Big Data Analytics platform: Data Lake and Project Management Software. Complete project execution operations, including ‘workflow with time lines’ and ‘alert mechanism’, have been configured. All project documentation, contractual decisions and approvals are now being done only through the portal. With advance analytics, the software forecasts delays and likely disputes and gives advance alerts. Because of these measures, contractors are able to start work from day one and we have been able to achieve the new construction targets every year. For more on technologies being implemented by road contractors, read box on ‘Technology at the Helm’. Biggest road and bridge projects under construction MAHARASHTRA SAMRUDDHI MAHAMARG Length: 701 km Location: Mumbai to Nagpur Implementing agency: Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) Contractor: Total 16 packages. Contractors include Megha Engineering, Afcons Infrastructure, NCC, PNC Infratech, Sadbhav Engineering, APCO Infratech, Reliance Infrastructure, Montecarlo Construction, L&T, Gayatri Projects, Dilip Buildcon, BSCPL-GVPR JV, Navayuga Engineering Company Cost: Rs 550 billion Expected completion: 2022 end Features: Six-lane (3 + 3), 120-m broad expressway, passes through 10 main districts, 22 interchanges, 17 new towns, 33 major bridges, 274 minor bridges (less than 30 m), six tunnels, eight rail-over-bridges, 65 flyovers/viaducts, 672 culverts USP/innovation in construction: Complete greenfield alignment. As the expressway passes through three wildlife sanctuaries, it will be the first in India to have underpasses and overpasses above and below it to allow animals to cross easily. It will also have automated toll collection booths to save time. Radheshyam Mopalwar, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director, MSRDC, shares, “The total land required for this project is 8,861.02 hectare (RoW + IC). Land has been acquired and Rs 74.24 billion has been disbursed to the landowners. All five DPR packages of the project have acquired the required forest and environmental clearances. All the EPC contractors of packages 1 to 16 have been given LoA and appointed dates. The time limit for execution of work for construction of Packages 1 to 13 is 30 months and for Packages 14 to 16 is 36 months. Package 14 (Kasara Ghat, Igatpuri) includes the longest tunnel of this project, which is 7.78 km by 17.5 for each corridor; construction is in progress. A total of 546 hectare forest land was acquired for the project and in exchange 546 hectare was given to the forest department at other locations. A total of 80 structures have been proposed along the expressway for wildlife conservation. Also, noise barriers are installed at critical wildlife locations. CHENAB BRIDGE Location: Bakal-Kauri, Resai District of Jammu and Kashmir Implementing agency: Indian Railways Contractor: Afcons Infrastructure Cost: Rs 14 billion Expected completion: December 2021 Features: 1.3 km long, 359 m high, arch span of 467 m USP/innovation in construction: Highest railway bridge in the world, bridge with the longest span in the Indian broad-gauge railway network. DELHI-MUMBAI EXPRESSWAY Length: 1,350 km Location: DND Flyway in Delhi to Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Mumbai Implementing agency: National Highways Authority of India Contractor: Total four sections with 52 packages/tenders in total. Multiple contractors like Dilip Buildcon, GR Infraprojects, APCO Infratech, L&T and Patel Engineers Cost: Rs 900 billion Expected completion: 2024 end Features: The project runs across Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. It also encompasses the Mumbai-Vadodara corridor. USP/innovation in construction: The project is set to have 92 wayside amenities at approximately every 50 km. It claims to cover the distance between Delhi to Mumbai in 13 hours. MUMBAI TRANSHARBOUR LINK Length: 21.8 km Location: Sewri-Chirle (Navi Mumbai) Implementing agency: Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) Contractor: Total three civil packages and one system package. Contractors include L&T and IHI Corporation JV (Package 1), Daewoo E&C and Tata Projects JV (Package 2) and L&T (Package 3). Package 4 is yet to be awarded Cost: Rs 178.43 billion Expected completion: 2023 Features: Six-lane bridge constructed in EPC mode USP/innovation in construction: On completion, it will be the longest sea bridge project in India. “Innovations started with the design,” says Dr SD Patil, Deputy Project Director, L&T-IHI Consortium. “Hollow piers and pier caps, dumbbell-shaped pile caps and seven-span continuous design are the highlights of the design innovations, which helped us to contain the quantities and in ease for construction.” He further adds that virtual reality (VR) programmes are being used to train workers and engineers. “RFID technology is used to track resources. Geospatial technologies are used to monitor the alignment.” Moreover, during construction, the Daewoo E&C and TATA Projects JV found a solution to save wildlife by using an orthotropic steel deck (OSD) instead of stay cables—this is not just an environmental solution but a design and engineering marvel. Adds S Natarajan, Deputy Project Director, Daewoo-Tata Projects JV, “OSD is being done for the first time in India. It helps build long-span bridges without the use of stay cables. This will help us support pink flamingos that migrate to Mumbai creek every summer.” BENGALURU-CHENNAI EXPRESSWAY Length: 258 km Location: Hoskote (Karnataka) to Sriperumbudur (Tamil Nadu) Implementing agency: National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) Contractor: Total 3 phases and 10 packages. Contractors include Dilip Buildcon, KCC Buildcon, Montecarlo, Apco Infratech, DP Jain Infrastructure and RCC Cost: Rs 170 billion Features: Four-lane access controlled expressway, expandable to eight lanes; 21-m- wide depressed median; all structures (bridges, culverts, etc) to be built up to allow for future widening to eight lanes from the inside. GANGA EXPRESSWAY Length: 594 km Location: Meerut district to Prayagraj district (The project will connect Greater Noida to Ballia) Implementing agency: Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA) Contractor: The agency has invited RFQ and RFP Cost: Expected to be Rs 373.50 billion Features: Six-lane access controlled project with 120 Right of Way, expandable to eight lanes in future. The project has been divided into 12 packages. DELHI-AMRITSAR-KATRA EXPRESSWAY Length: 650 km Location: Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Implementing agency: NHAI Contractor: Total 2 phases. Phase 1 contractors include KCC Buildcon, CDS Infra Projects, NKC Projects, Shiv Build India, Ceigall India and Evrascon-MKCIL JV. Works on Phase 2 yet to commence. Cost: Rs 250 billion crore (Phase 1) Expected completion: October 2023 Features: Four-lane expressway expandable to eight lanes in future. Includes greenfield and brownfield expressways USP/innovation in construction: The Amritsar to Gurdaspur section is set to be a signal-free, one-stretch section. MUMBAI COASTAL ROAD PROJECT Location: Princess Street flyover (Marine Lines) to Kandivali Implementing agency: Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) Contractor: 4 packages; 3 already awarded. Contractors include L&T and Hindustan Construction Company-Hyundai Development Corporation (HCC-HDC) JV Cost: Rs 127 billion (Phase1 – Marine Lines to Bandra-Worli) Expected completion: July 2023 Features: Four-to-eight lane project, will act as an extension of Bandra-Worli Sea Link in the north. USP/innovation in construction: The project is set to be landscaped with cycle tracks, promenades, amphitheatres, children’s play areas and other recreational space. Focus is on a lot of green spaces. KACCHI DARGAH-BIDUPUR BRIDGE Length: 22.76 km road project with a 9.76-km bridge over the Ganga Location: Patna- Hajipur Implementing agency: Bihar State Road Development Corporation (BSRDC) Contractor: Daewoo E&C-L&T JV Cost: Rs 49.88 billion Expected completion: November 2021 Features: Six-lane bridge connecting the north and south of Bihar. On completion, it will reduce dependence on the Gandhi Setu, thereby reducing traffic in Patna USP/innovation in construction: Set to be the longest bridge running over a river in India; the first bridge in Bihar to be a six-lane, extradosed bridge. Technology at the helm With infrastructure investment set to go up, demand for construction equipment will rise further. By 2022, sales are forecast to reach 110,815 units, as per IBEF. The Government’s move to cut GST rates on construction equipment from 28 per cent to 18 per cent is expected to further boost the industry. Further, NHAI has made the use of drones mandatory for monthly video recordings of all National Highway projects through different stages of construction, development, operation and maintenance. Contractors and concessionaires are expected to execute the drone video recording in the presence of the supervision consultant and upload a comparative of the current and previous month on NHAI’s Data Lake portal, incorporating all project-related developments in a month. Supervision consultants will examine these recordings and give their comments in digital monthly progress reports incorporating several viewpoints of the project development. NHAI will also begin monthly drone surveys in all developed projects where it is accountable for operation and maintenance. Additionally, mandatory deployment of a network survey vehicle (NSV) on National Highways will improve the overall quality of highways as it uses the latest survey methods, such as a high-resolution digital camera for 360° imagery, laser road profilometer and other technology for the estimation of danger in the road surface. It will help collate data to analyse road conditions, including measurement of the surface, cracking, potholes and patches. Apart from this, NSV will also provide data insights relating to side drains and road furniture, etc. The provision has been included as part of the standard bidding document of consultancy services. What’s more, NHAI has gone fully digital, with the launch of its unique Cloud-based and AI-powered Big Data Analytics platform: Data Lake and Project Management Software (see interview with NHAI chairman). Regarding guidelines for contractors, Dr Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, Chairman, NHAI, responds, “We have always encouraged them to think innovatively and use the latest equipment that will result in better quality and faster project output. A recent example of this is the world-record feat for laying pavement of quality concrete (PQC) for a four-lane highway of 2,580 m within 24 hours on the greenfield Delhi-Vadodara-Mumbai Expressway project. The construction was carried out by the world’s largest fully automatic ultra-modern concrete paver machine.” For his part, Yogesh Kumar Jain, Managing Director, PNC Infratech, cites the 700-km Nagpur-Mumbai Expressway or Maharashtra Samruddhi Mahamarg (see more in box on ‘Biggest road and bridge projects under construction’). “To meet the demanding timelines, we deployed the Wirtgen SP 1600 concrete slipform paver attached with texture and curing machines and fully mechanised dowel and tie bar inserter for laying the PQC of 310-mm thickness for full width in one go. This state-of-the-art machine has not only tremendously improved the pace of construction but significantly enhanced the quality of pavement.” In the same project, the company also used building information modelling (BIM), which integrates structured, multidisciplinary data to produce a digital representation of the project asset across its lifecycle. “As we experience that the use of technology is remarkably improving the construction process in speed and quality of execution, we are increasingly adopting innovative technologies across the project implementation cycle in surveys and studies, planning design, execution, monitoring and maintenance,” he adds. Tappet box is another asset management Cloud-based application, available in both desktop and mobile versions, and it is being used by NCC. “With this, we are monitoring asset mapping, fuel management, service check sheet (preventive maintenance), downtime and breakdowns, productivity, asset activity (log sheet, trips, sessions), tickets (job cards) expense and AMD invoice preparation,” observes Raghu Alluri, Director. “To move into the next orbit of growth, we need to consciously and sustainably reengineer our business processes. So, we have embarked on a Digital Transformation & Operational Excellence Initiative to build a sustainable competitive and agile organisation.” Evidently, the use of modern technologies and digitisation of infrastructure-related agencies will help bring efficiency and information symmetry across the value chain, thus improving project monitoring and reducing delays, disputes and cost overruns. Further, the use of technology for the preparation of DPRs will improve accuracy and reduce preparation time. Building safer roads and bridges? Road accidents and bridge collapses are a major threat in India, which have the dual impact of loss of lives and infrastructure. Unfortunately, India has one of the highest incidence rates in the world in fatalities from road and highway accidents. While lack of defensive driving is also a causal factor, engineering measures can be taken to minimise risk of accidents. Engineering for road safety “We must inculcate the safety mindset in all our engineers, so that safety is the No. 1 priority, in design or construction,” highlights Kshitish V Nadgauda, Senior Vice-President and Managing Director - Asia, Louis Berger International (A WSP Company). To start with, he says, “We must ensure our roadways are designed for future traffic volumes that are forecast in an educated and scientific manner, taking all contributing factors into account.” All too often, roadway configurations designed for the next 20 years reach capacity in half that period, pointing to flawed forecasts. “Next, we must ensure all roads are designed in full compliance with applicable design standards. This includes, but is not limited to, the right number of lanes, inner and outer shoulders of the right width, properly designed median for divided carriageways with or without median barriers, adequately designed embankment slopes, pavement thickness, etc.” The roadway should also be designed for efficient drainage for stormwater during rain, he adds. Apart from the roadway cross-section itself, all junctions and intersections, major or minor, should also be designed to be fully compliant with codes and standards. Major junctions should be signalised if warranted by traffic volumes, or even grade-separated. The design of our roadways should only be entrusted to qualified and experienced consultants, observes Nadgauda. Equally important is quality assurance and quality control during construction. “Monitoring agencies must ensure the contractor constructs in full compliance with contract drawings and specifications. There should be zero tolerance for deviations. Apart from material quality, visible quality aspects must also be given due importance. Lines and grades should be well within tolerance, resulting in a smooth riding surface.” To this effect, the recently amended Central Motor Vehicles Rules (CMVR) have made it mandatory that the design, construction and maintenance of roads be in accordance with the Indian Roads Congress (IRC) standards. Further, the amended Motor Vehicles Act prescribes a fine up to Rs 0.1 million if contractors, consultants or designated authorities fail to comply. Rectification of blackspots The Scientific Committee of the IRC has prepared guidelines for rectification of blackspots. The IRC is the apex body of highway engineers in the country that is mainly responsible for development of standards, guidelines and manuals for roads, bridges and tunnels. It has a dedicated Expert Committee for preparation of guidelines on various aspects of road safety. The committee has so far prepared over 12 documents, including those on traffic calming measures, road signages, road markings, recommended practice for traffic rotaries, traffic management in work zones, pedestrian facilities and road safety audit. Road construction agencies such as NHAI, state PWDs, etc, are required to follow these documents to reduce road accidents. Recently, the IRC has approved new guidelines for identifying and treating blackspots, based on best international practices. “The blackspot management process elaborated in the guidelines will help scientifically identify locations where a higher number of crashes of a similar nature are occurring as a result of local risk factors,” says SK Nirmal, Secretary General, IRC. Often, circumstances specific to a location are partly responsible for the high number of crashes. “Location-specific, infrastructural measures can be implemented to decrease the number of crashes. This can be defined as ‘treating blackspot sites’.” Rectification of blackspots is getting the highest priority from MoRTH. All the blackspots identified on different categories of roads in the past six years have been taken up by respective agencies for rectification. This new guideline will help all implementing agencies to follow the correct procedures for identification and rectification. The field officers of various road-sector agencies must follow safe construction practices as stipulated in relevant specifications and standards and ensure road safety audits of their construction projects at all stages: planning, DPR, construction and maintenance. “For this purpose, IRC has recently published a user-friendly ‘Manual on Road Safety Audit’, which provides a detailed checklist on the issues requiring attention during construction,” adds Nirmal. Better bridge structures Like roadways and highways, the structural integrity of bridges should be ensured through proper design and compliant construction. The same as roadways, the design of bridges and associated structures should only be entrusted to suitably qualified and experienced consulting engineering firms, notes Nadgauda. “It is imperative for firms to follow strict quality processes and procedures, ensuring designs are done right the first time, and checked and back-checked before issuing for construction. Designs should be compliant with all applicable codes and standards. Deviations should not be accepted. The design of foundations should be based on a comprehensive geotechnical investigations programme.” Quality assurance and control during construction is even more important in the case of bridges. Only qualified and experienced personnel should be entrusted with bridge construction. “Clients should ensure that firms for bridge design and construction are prequalified on the basis of their prior experience, key resources, and the firm’s quality programme,” affirms Nadgauda. “This should greatly reduce the incidence of bridge failures.” Stronger and sustainable roads It is important first and foremost for roads to be designed for the right loads, Nadgauda continues. For this, traffic forecasts must be reliably conducted taking all growth factors into account. The pavement cross-section would then be adequately designed. In addition, adequate stormwater drainage provisions should be incorporated in the roadway cross-section, else its integrity would be eventually compromised. He reiterates the need for quality assurance and quality control during design and construction to ensure stronger and sustainable roads. Further, one needs to explore newer materials in conjunction with roadways, including recycled asphalt and plastics.- SERAPHINA D’SOUZA