Guidelines for design of Amaila Falls road poorly done – review

– experts call for urgent changes

A review of the Amaila Falls access road conducted by external consultants in June highlighted the poorly outlined specifications in the original project document and recommended immediate changes to the design including widening the road and reducing its steepness (grades).

According to documents seen by this newspaper, Sithe Global, the developer of the project, contracted BBFL Caribbean Ltd in collaboration with Earth Investigation Systems Ltd to undertake a review of the proposed road to see whether the road, as designed and specified, would be able to function for its intended use. The review was conducted by the consultants in June and a final report was released in July.

Reliable sources provided evidence to this newspaper which suggested that the report came months after representatives from the proposed hydropower contractor China Railway visited here in March/ April and expressed concern about the road being unable to satisfy their demands. This prompted an entire review of the road by the various entities involved in the US$15.4 million project currently being undertaken by Fip Motilall’s Synergy Holdings Inc, this newspaper was told.

Fip Motilall

The consultants, in their confidential report which this newspaper was able to peruse, noted that while the project contained good general guidelines the design specifications were poorly written and unclear in several cases. “The Information Memorandum is the only document received which indicates any level of project specification. This document, while giving generally good guidelines for the construction of the work, lacks any specific guidelines for the proper design of the road,” the report stated. “Any given design specifications were poorly written, unclear and ambiguous,” the report added.

“No international design standards such as American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) or British Standards (BS) to be followed or referenced for the design of the road or bridges were stated in the Information Memorandum,” the report further stated.

Further, the consultants noted that the sub-base or road base material to be used on the project was unclear as the specifications stated in the project document were unclear and contained “an obvious error” in the material standard quoted.

Synergy’s contract is for “the upgrading of approximately 85 km of existing roadway, the design and construction of approximately 110 km of virgin roadway, the design and construction of two new pontoon crossings at the Essequibo and Kuribrong rivers.” The fourth part of the project is for the clearing of a pathway alongside the roadway to allow for the installation of approximately 65 km of transmission lines. Motilall was granted the construction notice to proceed on Sections 1 to 5 of the project on October 5 last year and the notice for Sections 6 and 7 in January and was expected to fulfil the initial contract by September 9.

The overall geometric design of the roadway as indicated by the drawings submitted is adequate and acceptable for the project roads except in very localized areas.

Observers have questioned how the project supervisors, SRKN’gineering and the government oversight team led by Walter Willis failed to discover these issues earlier.

The consultants, in their report, pointed to the original project document which spoke of “acceptable grades of 20 per cent for sections shorter than 200 m”. The original document contained favourable grades of 10 per cent yet recommended 8 per cent. “These guidelines are very unclear, confusing and contain errors that could lead to erroneous design,” the consultants said in their report. The consultants gave a recommended grade of 6 ½ per cent.

The consultants also recommended that whatever design changes are required they should be addressed as soon as possible. “While we understand that the contractor has commenced work based on the material test results given to date, it is imperative that the pavement design be modified if the pavement structure is to be capable of performing over the design life required,” the report said. “Any change in design should be addressed as soon as possible before any substantial surface layer of laterite is instilled,” the consultants added.

Sources close to the project have told this newspaper that Motilall has since had to go back and to do additional work on some of the sections that have already been completed.  A knowledgeable source close to the project opined that in this case Motilall’s sloth on the project proved to be slightly advantageous.

Earlier this month, Willis told this newspaper that Motilall is badly behind on the project but that the company was likely to claim an extension for the bad weather and for other extenuating circumstances. He said it is only if the company fails to complete the project by the extended deadline that the government can claim liquidated damages. Willis said then that Synergy is not likely to substantially complete the road before December.

Sithe Global has repeatedly said it intends to commence construction of the hydropower plant before the end of the year and the completion of the road is seen as key to securing financial closure for this project.

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