The 155 kilometre Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Highway upgrade was the final link in the Pacific Highway, between Hexham and the Queensland border, to be upgraded to four lanes.
Partnering with Transport for NSW and Laing O’Rouke in joint venture as delivery partner, we managed the delivery of the 129 kilometre Glenugie to Ballina bypass section of the upgrade. The joint venture (Pacific Complete) had overall responsibility for providing planning, programming, design management, procurement and construction management services who, in turn, managed the contractors building the infrastructure.
The project has been delivered under a delivery partner model which was based largely on the delivery approach used for the construction of the London Olympics infrastructure. This was the first time the Delivery Partner Model was used for a major Australian infrastructure project.
Driven to save lives
A poor road safety record was a major driver to upgrade the Pacific Highway, prompted by two fatal coach crashes near Kempsey and Grafton in 1989. The team delivering the upgrade program never lost sight of the main objective – making the Pacific Highway safer for the millions of people who drive it each year.
Dual carriageway median separated motorways enhance safety by separating traffic, removing conflict points and allowing for overtaking. Bypassed towns, new rest areas and grade separated interchanges also offer improved safety outcomes.
Working in challenging environments
The Woolgoolga to Ballina upgrade project crossed some of the most diverse and challenging environments including two major river catchments, floodplains, significant areas of soft soil, threatened species habitat, and sensitive heritage areas.
Potential environmental impacts on various ecosystems and several threatened species were considered, and the team developed 37 specific environmental management plans to protect fauna and flora. Other design initiatives reduced the land required for the project, saving 127 hectares of vegetation.
The project was committed to hiring local Indigenous people and we achieved higher-than-promised Aboriginal employment rates, with 300 people employed at the project peak and 1 million hours worked. There were high levels of community engagement, Aboriginal heritage was protected and celebrated, and a range of local Aboriginal businesses became suppliers.
A sophisticated procurement strategy was developed to award contracts for small and large packages of construction works. Some areas were constructed as ‘horizontal packages’, where different contractors constructed the various layers of roadway, such as embankments, drainage, structures and pavement. Other areas were awarded as ‘vertical packages’, where a single contractor was responsible for the top to bottom road construction. In addition, master supply agreements were used to provide components such as precast concrete elements and raw quarry materials.
Innovative digital engineering systems were developed, such as our web-enabled Geographic Information System (GIS). It provided instant access to the current real-time data and information on one accessible system for all the users, wherever they were. The teams could quickly access data on site to identify and resolve any design, construction, community or environmental compliance issue, saving time and money.
Standardised design for bridges
The project team built 155 bridges along 129 kilometres between Glenugie and Ballina, including over the big Northern NSW Rivers: Clarence River at Harwood and the Richmond River at Broadwater. This included more than 8900 precast elements which required a standardised approach to enable program certainty, risk management, economies of scale, logistics and simple interfaces between bridge and civil contractors.
Meeting the needs of road-users, communities and stakeholders
Community and stakeholder engagement was an important part of the Pacific Highway story and Woolgoolga to Ballina is no exception. Communities were consulted communities, and customers were informed about what was happening, noise mitigation improvements were provided to affected houses and the team worked with the NSW environmental authorities to ensure the protective measures identified in the planning approval were implemented successfully.
Delivering the final link – a lasting legacy
Despite major events such as bushfires, flood events and the COVID-19 pandemic the project team opened the final link of the Pacific Highway to traffic in December 2020.
The final section of the Pacific Highway to be upgraded to four lane dual carriageway has taken 5 years and involved over 3,500 people.. It has prevented many accidents, reduced 13 kilometres off the travel distance and 25 minutes off the travel time for all road users for many decades to come.
The size, scale, delivery approach and complex nature of this project provided unique challenges to the project team, which required innovative solutions to achieve the required project outcomes and ultimately leave a positive economic, social and environmental legacy.