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New Bridgewater Bridge project transforming transport in Tasmania

New Bridgewater Bridge project transforming transport in Tasmania

Harnessing its global engineering prowess, McConnell Dowell is delivering Tasmania’s most ambitious transport infrastructure project to date – the New Bridgewater Bridge.

Constructing large-scale, world-class infrastructure demands exceptional skill, meticulous planning and technical proficiency – challenges that McConnell Dowell boldly embraces. This constant focus is proving pivotal in the successful execution of Tasmania’s largest-ever transport infrastructure project, including the construction of one of Australia’s longest road bridges over water.

Jointly funded by the Australian and Tasmanian governments as part of the Hobart City Deal, the $786 million New Bridgewater Bridge project aims to bolster Tasmania’s national highway, enhance connectivity among local communities and bridge the gap between the Brooker Highway and Midland Highway. Central to the project is the construction of a 1.2-kilometre-long bridge over the River Derwent, set to replace the existing lift-span bridge constructed in the 1940s and the convict-built causeway from the mid-1830s. Designed as a dual two-lane thoroughfare, the new bridge will significantly slash travel times for 22,000 daily commuters while facilitating smoother freight movement around the state.

The project also involves the delivery of free-flowing interchanges at Granton and Bridgewater, with noise walls and seamless connections for cyclists and pedestrians.

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Elevating infrastructure

According to Peter Fraser, project director for the New Bridgewater Bridge project at McConnell Dowell, its sheer scale and technical complexity distinguish it from previous projects in the state, elevating it to a world-class standard.

“We were awarded the contract by the Tasmanian Department of State Growth with an innovative design and construction methodology, together with our commitment to fostering local industry participation,” says Fraser. “We are fully dedicated to fulfilling that commitment.”

“With a project of this scale and location, maintaining a strong social license is essential for our successful and timely project completion.

“This aligns naturally with the values and objectives of McConnell Dowell and the continued support of both the community and the state government who remain deeply invested in the project’s success.”

Fraser notes that community feedback thus far has been overwhelmingly positive, despite some inevitable traffic disruptions. McConnell Dowell remains steadfast in its efforts to minimise such disruptions, and despite occasional inconveniences, community conversations reflect an enthusiasm and interest for the project’s progress.

“Our focus remains on delivering the New Bridgewater Bridge project with efficiency and transparency and minimising community impact,” says Fraser. “We’re on track with both schedule and budget, and our community engagement efforts are yielding promising results.”

Global expertise

The technical complexity of the New Bridgewater Bridge project is considerable, positioning it as a world-class endeavour. This distinction is particularly noteworthy for Tasmania, where such large-scale projects are rarely undertaken, necessitating collaboration with both international and local stakeholders.

“Our primary aim has been to secure the right blend of local and international talent for the team – this was our challenge, but one we’ve tackled head-on with great success,” says Fraser. “We have a good balance of impressive talent and experience from engaging local industries while supplementing with national and international expertise.”

To this end, McConnell Dowell has forged partnerships with international firms such as Tony Gee and Partners from Hong Kong, renowned for its bridge design expertise, and Jacobs, a leading engineering services company overseeing civil engineering and construction undertakings on the project.

The project team has enlisted the expertise of Tonkin and Taylor for geotechnical engineering activities. GHD and pitt&sherry, both with local Tasmanian offices, are providing independent verification and proof engineering services respectively.

The meticulous planning and integration of construction, engineering and design are vital aspects of this project. The structure itself is 1.2 kilometres, comprising 21 spans of box girder construction. Complexity is compounded by the need for 46 extremely deep monopiles installed in environmentally sensitive marine areas, posing challenges for both construction and ecological preservation. Installing the piles, some reaching depths of up to 90 metres, requires specialised capabilities and technologies not widely available.

Fraser emphasises the importance of reliable access for bridge construction whilst minimising environmental impact. “We’ve invested significantly in providing minimally invasive access for people, material and equipment whilst supporting a demanding construction schedule – relying on traditional floating plant was not the solution,” he says.

“Our approach has been to install a bespoke temporary bridge across the river channel with purpose-built barges, manufactured in Indonesia, sitting on the shallow mud to form a continuous fixed link.

“This approach ensures crucial construction access and minimises our impact upon important local flora and fauna in the environmentally sensitive mudflats and seagrass beds.

“Each relationship we have – Tasmanian, national and international – with individuals and organisations is critical to the successful delivery of this project.”

A pivotal partnership exemplifying this synergy is with international bridge specialists VSL, which is McConnell Dowell’s main construction partner for the New Bridgewater Bridge project.

Together, they’ve established a purpose-built precast concrete production facility producing over 1,000 segments for the bridge’s box girders and commissioned bespoke erection equipment. A fully integrated team of VSL and McConnell Dowell personnel is managing both production and segment erection.

Fraser emphasises, “Having VSL involved from the project’s inception working through fundamental methodologies was crucial; their absence would have rendered the task immensely challenging, if not insurmountable.”

McConnell Dowell has also maintained close collaboration with Tasmanian environmental authorities to ensure full alignment with project operations and environmental management.

“I believe we’ve truly pioneered a new approach in our collaboration with government agencies,” says Fraser. “We see them as partners, integral members of our team.”

In conjunction with these agencies, McConnell Dowell is proactively ensuring the protection of all environmental aspects during construction. This pragmatic problem-solving approach, which includes sophisticated modelling and monitoring, coupled with close collaboration with government agencies, establishes a precedent for future projects.

The $786 million New Bridgewater Bridge project is Tasmania’s largest-ever transport infrastructure project to date.
The $786 million New Bridgewater Bridge project is Tasmania’s largest-ever transport infrastructure project to date.

Leveraging local capability

Within Tasmania, McConnell Dowell has collaborated with various local contractors, including Batchelor, BridgePro and Hazell Bros.

Hazell Bros, for instance, is designing and reliably supplying complex concrete mixes tailored to the project’s demanding specifications, leveraging its regional proficiency and direct access to local quarries.

BridgePro has worked closely with McConnell Dowell since the development of its tender to develop innovative solutions, including those for temporary bridge installation and the erection of the 42 in-situ concrete piers.

Local participation is reflected in the average $12 million per month the project is spending with local industry, with over 350 of the project’s suppliers based in Tasmania. Ed McPhillips, construction manager for the New Bridgewater Bridge project at McConnell Dowell, emphasises that the benefits extend beyond the local supply chain. In addition to supporting local businesses, McConnell Dowell is actively contributing to the region’s economy through a robust training and employment initiative.

“Currently, around 350 individuals are engaged on the project, with a significant portion recruited from the local workforce,” says McPhillips. “For instance, within the precast yard, there are approximately 120 local employees.”

“What’s particularly advantageous about such a manufacturing facility is its ability to accommodate workers with varying skill levels.

“We’ve successfully integrated individuals new to the industry with seasoned professionals, resulting in many of them now excelling in their roles and well-equipped with the necessary skills to tackle future construction projects in Tasmania.”

A landmark achievement

Building upon the expertise and achievements being rolled out for the New Bridgewater Bridge project, McConnell Dowell is focussed on developing value-for-money solutions for upcoming large-scale projects in Tasmania, where it can enhance and support local capability with an established delivery team and expertise.

According to McPhillips, the projects to be developed in Tasmania present significant technical challenges and opportunities for collaboration, particularly in hydro and water infrastructure.

“Fortunately, we’ve assembled a strong team for this project, providing extensive upskilling and training, and we aim to transition them to these upcoming projects in the state,” he says. “Major infrastructure projects often share similar hurdles, and our experienced teams, alongside our local and international partners, are well-equipped to tackle them.”

The New Bridgewater Bridge project showcases McConnell Dowell’s prowess in executing large-scale construction endeavours, leveraging its world-class engineering expertise and experience, while also fostering local talent and capabilities. As the company continues to expand its presence in Tasmania, the local economy is poised to reap the rewards.

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