Norconsult mega project takes shape

Draw a big cross on the map of Bangkok on the west bank of the Chao Phaya river. Put the North-South line in the middle between the river and the Outer Ring Road. This is the approximate location of Norconsult International’s major highway and bridge project currently under construction. The mega project includes 25 kilometres of three lane highway, 8 kilometres of bridges and flyovers, and five major intersections with the East-West going roads. It employs 4000 construction workers. And the whole project is scheduled to be completed only seven months from now by the end of March 2003.

The project will cost the Public Works Department a total of around 6 Billion Baht to construct, not including land acquisitions. This amount is finances 60 percent from Japan as a loan and 40 percent as pure government funds.

“We will complete the whole system by the end of March next year – so we have seven more months to go. We’ll manage that if nothing special happens,” says Project Manager Svein O. Kvaalen who is supervising the whole project.

“Intermediate Ring Road”
“Bangkok has an Inner Ring Road and an Outer Ring Road already. I guess this could be called a section of an Intermediate Ring Road,” says Svein Kvaalen.

If you start from the North, Norconsult’s road and bridge complex begins from Rattanathibet Road (Highway 302), which is the extension of Ngam Wong Wan on the West side of the Chao Phraya River. Having crossed the Phra Nang Klao Bridge, Norconsult’s intersection will be located a few kilometres before you reach the Outer Ring Road.

Running South from this intersection parallel to the Outer Ring Road, the Norconsult highway will first intersect with Norconsult’s own East West going highway which is part of the project. This East West road connects Norconsult’s newly opened Rama 5 Bridge in Nonthaburi with the Outer Ring Road.

Further down the road it will intersect with the Borommaratchonni Road (Highway 341) going to Nakhon Pathom which is the extension from the Thonburi Bridge when coming from Rachawithi Road and crossing the river.

Finally, the highway will end in the South with an intersection with Phetkasem Road (Highway 4) leading to Nakhon Pathom which is accessed from the Bangkok side by crossing the Thaksin Bridge (from Sathorn Road across the river).

“We finished the first phase of the project in April this year,” says Svein Kvaalen. That was the Rama 5 Bridge across the river and the down to Klong Bangkok Noi.

Believe it or not..
As if this as not impressive enough, Norconsult is further to the South, but not directly linked to the highway complex described above, building a unique double bridge complex with an engineering solution which is not seen anywhere else in the world.

First, the bridge will be 50 meters high to allow for ships coming up the Chao Phaya River to access Bangkok’s Klong Toey harbour. Next, it will span the Chao Phraya River twice without touching down on the ground in between, because of the meandering flow of the River on its way to the Gulf of Siam. And last, but not least, 50 meters up there in mid air, in between the two bridges, an intersection will be build for motorists going North instead of crossing the second of the two bridges!

“We had to design it this way, because the strip of land between the two parts of the river is so narrow. It is simply not possible to touch down on the ground to construct a normal intersection,” Mr. Kvaalen explains.

The construction of this part of the project has just started. When completed, it will be part of the coming Industrial Ring Road connecting Samut Prakarn on the East side of the river with Phra Pradaeng on the West side of the river.

Seven bridges
Norconsult has designed a total of seven bridges spanning the Chao Phraya. The very first one was the New Memorial Bridge, “Pra Pok Klao”, completed around twenty years ago. The company started working in Thailand in 1979 as the leading consultants on this bridge.

Next came the Krungthon Bridge in 1996 and then the Krungthep Bridge or Rama 3 Bridge, completed in 1999. This year, the Rama 5 bridge was completed in April. North of this, Norconsult has designed and proposed yet another bridge, but it is uncertain whether this will in fact ever be constructed.

Finally, in the South there is the special double bridge project which has just commenced construction to be completed in about three years. The last one is a proposed crossing far North of Bangkok further towards Auytthaya.

The start of the current project goes all the way back to the early 1990’s when Norconsult was contracted by the Public Works Department (PWD) to design the complex. Already at that time, Norconsult had partnered in Thailand with their current partners, TEAM, Span and MAA, all civil engineering companies in Thailand with different areas of expertise.

Then there was a re-design of the project in 1997, but before the go ahead order came from PWD, the economic crisis hit Thailand and the project was frozen until in April 2001 the construction could finally get started.

Four different contractor groups are working on each their section of the project. This is where the majority of the 4000 people working on the project are employed. To manage and coordinate the contractors, there are four Thai, resident engineers with each their control teams totalling about eighty people. And to control these teams, there is Svein Kvaalen with his team.

Demanding task
“Supervising a project this size is quite a demanding task although all meetings are conducted in English,” Svein Kvaalen readily admits.

“Along the way on projects like this there will always be discussions whether something should be calculated as an extra cost or considered included in the contract. Just like there will always be modifications on this kind of a project as it progresses even if the original design has been done in great details.”

“Our meetings deal not only with technical questions but also with cost issues. The construction cost is based on a unit price – not a lump sum – so if something has to be added, the costs need to be assessed as well,” he says, adding that as the contractors are all very professional, he could never dream of just telling a contractor to do it his way.

Owner of the project is the Public Works Department (PWD). The supervision group comprising Norconsult International and the Thai companies MAA, Span and Team Consulting and Management have their contracts directly with the PWD. This is also the case with the four contracting companies:

– Italian Thai together with Sumitumo
– Ch. Karn Chang together with Obayashi
– Unique together with Kajima
– CMS Construction in a group without foreigners

“So if a conflict should erupt, the final decision would rest with PWD,” Kvaalen says, adding that the cooperation among the contractors has so far been quite smooth.

Nine years in China
Svein Kvaalen has been leading the project since the construction phase started in 2001 one and a half year ago. Before that, he worked for Norconsult in China for nine years since 1991. And prior to that, he was the Head of Norconsult’s hydro power division since 1987.

“Over the years many people have asked me if I liked it in China,” he says.
“But the answer is that I wouldn’t have stayed there for nine years if I did not like it.”

So how does he find life in Thailand?
“The best word is ‘amazing’,” he says
“I first came to Thailand in 1982. Since then, it has been numerous visits from a few days to a few months, before I came in 2001 to the project.”
“I have never been out of Bangkok, always busy with work. If Thailand is Bangkok, I am not sure I like it, but I am pretty sure that Thailand is not Bangkok, but what it is, I do not know. Therefore my feelings for Thailand at this point has not reached longer than that it astonishes me, surprises me, amazes me all the time!”

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