Contracting company, Higgins, has been involved in infrastructure projects in Fiji for the past four years. Currently, it is involved in upgrading a section of the Queens Road on the south-western side of the main island of Viti Levu. RICHARD SILCOCK profiles the $66 million project.
ALTHOUGH A MAIN arterial for tourist and commercial vehicles alike, Queens Road, which runs some 197 kilometres from Lautoka to Suva, was in a poor state and due to it being only two lanes was severely congested at times.
The road provides the primary access to Nadi International Airport and the numerous tourist resorts along the palm-fringed, white sand south-western coastline known as the Coral Coast. It is also an important route for the transportation of produce such as sugar that is grown around Lautoka, Fiji’s second largest town. Around 15,000 vehicles currently travel the road each day.
Higgins won the contract for the redevelopment of a six-kilometre section of the road, from the airport to the intersection with the two-lane Denarau Resort bypass. Known as the N2 Queens Road Contract it is being carried out for the Fiji Roads Authority.
The project has involved realigning parts of the road, constructing a four-lane highway with six signalised intersections and a major roundabout. It has also included upgrading and managing the relocation and installation of underground services such as power cables, telecommunication cables, sewer lines, a number of water mains and stormwater pipes. In addition, footpaths, street lighting, landscaping and new bus stops are being installed.
At the same time the Fiji Electricity Authority is relocating overhead power lines to allow for the road upgrade widening.
Project manager for the redevelopment, James Walsh, who has overseen the project since it commenced in late 2014, says the main reason for the upgrade was the need to widen it to relieve traffic congestion especially around the airport entrance, put down new paving and provide a much safer road.
“As the main road to and from the airport, the resorts and Lautoka [the departure point for tourists travelling to the outer islands], Queens Road is regarded as the ‘Gateway to Fiji’,” says James.
“It was originally built prior to the Second World War as an unsealed road to the capital Suva, which is on the other side of the island. Parts of it had been sealed since but due to the amount of traffic, heavy rainfall and at times severe flooding, the road had deteriorated considerably and became badly pot holed,” he says. “In April this year a section of the road had to be closed so that a stormwater pipe which had collapsed could be repaired.”
The N2 Queens Road Contract is a significant road infrastructure project for Fiji. At a cost of $66 million it has involved over 100 people in the construction. One hundred and twenty thousand cubic metres of foamed bitumen pavement, 113,000 cubic metres of asphalt, 18 kilometres of concrete culverts, 22,241 metres of kerbing, and 31,500 cubic metres of concrete for the footpaths have been used in the project.
“As there was an existing road, the amount of earthworks has been minimal,” says James.
“However we’ve had to replace over 12,000 cubic metres of the existing pavement.”
Equipment for the project was supplied from New Zealand and shipped over. It includes a number of 5-20 tonne Caterpillar excavators, several graders, seven 4-10 tonne rollers, two Bitelli paving machines and an asphalt spreader, along with several Hino crew cabs and a watercart.
A major weather event in February last year interrupted the project. Tropical Cyclone Winston, the worst ever to hit Fiji and the Pacific Basin destroyed or damaged over 40,000 homes in Fiji resulting in some 350,000 people being impacted. Work was curtailed for two weeks due to severe flooding, fallen trees and downed power lines.
“Apart from that event, the weather has been generally pretty good for road construction purposes as the ground dries up quickly after a rainfall, even in winter when the temperature can still reach 25-30 odd degrees,” says James.
In addition to the Higgins team, 10 local subcontracting companies are involved to work on specific infrastructure including two 4.5-metre-high concrete and steel retaining walls, drainage, kerbing, bus shelters, street lighting, signage and landscaping.
“By utilising local subcontractors, it has allowed us to extend the skills of the local people through a formal training programme,” says James.
“This training is a key focus for Higgins as it forms a part of the contract we have with Fiji Roads so it is taken very seriously and we take every opportunity to include locals where feasible.
“The training is done to NZTA certified level and has resulted in 10 traffic controllers and five site management supervisors gaining qualification. In addition, training modules are provided for the local staff on earthworks, pavement construction, bitumen paving and sealing, first aid and critical safety rules. Training is also provided for a number of other skills including truck driving and for operators of machinery so that they can gain a licence.”
Higgins expects to complete this section of the upgrade in April next year. The company is also working on a road maintenance programme and with more infrastructure work coming up in the future is expected to have a presence in Fiji for some time yet.
“In the three years that I have been here leading this project, I’ve got to meet a lot of the local people,” says James.
“The Fijians are awesome, really friendly, so I have enjoyed interacting with them and am enjoying life in this tropical slice of paradise.”