OPBRC provides solutions to challenges encountered in road construction

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OPBRC provides solutions to challenges encountered in road construction

Output and Performance-based Road Contracting (OPBRC) is improving efficiency and effectiveness of road asset management and maintenance in various African countries. Ghana is the latest country to adopt this innovative contracting model to help solve the challenges encountered with conventional contracting models.

Shalen Jangali, a JG Afrika Technical Director of Roads and Highways and an expert in OPBRC, believes that there is more scope for other countries to adopt this model of contracting considering its many benefits. “OPBRC ensures quality design and construction of road infrastructure. This is in addition to facilitating the completion of road construction projects within the awarded price and adequate maintenance of the infrastructure after it has been built. There is a strong case for its deployment in other countries, including South Africa,” Jangali says.

JG Afrika is among only a few South African consulting engineers that has broad knowledge in the field. This includes the company’s participation in successful road construction projects in Liberia under the OPBRC model.

Based on Jangali’s stellar performance on these projects, he was recently nominated to lead the large team of JG Afrika engineers working on a large road construction project in Ghana that involves this method of contracting.

His team comprises 10 seasoned geometric and pavement design engineers from the firm’s Pietermaritzburg and Cape Town offices. These skills and experiences are complemented by those of representatives from Ghana-based Taivani Consult, JG Afrika’s Ghanaian Joint Venture partner that is undertaking the geotechnical investigations and site surveys for this project, including hydrology and hydraulic design of the roadway drainage. The firms are joined by Attachy Construction, a Ghanaian contractor, to complete the Construction Entity that was appointed to design, construct and maintain the road network on behalf of the Ghanaian Ministry of Roads and Highways.

An important feature of an OPBRC is that any type of firm or business venture that has the necessary technical, managerial and financial capacity to fulfil the contractual obligations can be appointed to undertake the road works if this permitted in the bidding document. This entity is responsible for designing and undertaking the works, services and actions that are necessary to achieve and maintain the service levels specified in the contract. These are defined from a road user’s perspective and may, therefore, include factors, such as average travel speeds, riding comfort and safety features.

Notably, this is the first time that the Ghanaian Ministry of Roads and Highways is using the OPBRC model. The ministry decided to experiment with it based on the success of the system in addressing the limitations of traditional road construction contracts in other West African countries, including Liberia.

The OPBRC is for the design, rehabilitation, improvement, maintenance and complementary interventions for selected feeder roads and farm tracks in the Upper West Region of Ghana. This project comprises three lots which, together, total more than 670km.

JG Afrika, Taivani Consult and Attachy Construction were awarded Lot 3, consisting of a 225km network of feeder roads within the Nandom, Lawra and Lambussie Districts.

“The initial rehabilitation of and upgrades to the roads includes the installation of streetlights, as well as the construction of sidewalks, bus bays and stopping lanes within selected urban areas. A total of 3,3km of roads in built-up areas will also be widened and upgraded from gravel surface to paved standards using concrete paving blocks. Moreover, existing culverts and new culverts will be constructed as part of this aspect of the work scope,” Jangali says. “Meanwhile, the maintenance component of the OPBRC includes complementary interventions, such as minor rehabilitations and the provision of mechanised boreholes with storage facilities at selected community-based health planning and service compounds. Periodic maintenance works consist of specific re-graveling activities and emergency works have been included in the network performance component of OPBRC.”

Located within the Western Sudan Savanna Zone, the network of feeder roads mainly services agricultural operations. These include, among others, the production of food crops, such as millet, sorghum, maize, cowpea, groundnut, rice and yam.

The network traverses a level terrain with an average elevation of 300m above mean sea level (MSL). With elevations ranging between 180m and 350m above MSL, the terrain generally slopes gently towards the Volta River. The lowest areas lie along the Volta Lake.

The construction entity is responsible for maintaining the road for three years after the two-year-long construction phase. In this way, the OPBRC also expands the role of the private sector to the management and conservation of road assets. This is opposed to the traditional role of a contractor which is to only execute the works. Under the conventional contract model, the contractor is incentivised to undertake the maximum amount of works to increase its turnover and profits. The contractor is not responsible for the quality of the design of the road for the user – even if it has spent a large sum of money and executed the work according to the contract. This has led to instances where roads have not lasted because of deficiencies in the original design and inadequate maintenance.

During the bidding process, the construction entity proposed a fixed lump-sum prices to raise the road to a certain service level and to maintain this standard for a relatively long period.

Under the OPBRC, the construction entity does not get paid directly for inputs or physical works. Instead, it is remunerated for achieving the specified service level indicators of the OPBRC. This includes rehabilitating the road to pre-defined standards; maintaining certain service levels on the network; and performing specific improvements to the infrastructure. It will receive a monthly lump-sum that covers all the physical and non-physical maintenance that it provides, while unforeseen emergency works will be remunerated separately. The rehabilitation and improvement work, which have been explicitly specified by the Ministry of Roads and Highways in the contract, are quoted on the basis of measurable output quantities and paid as performed by the construction entity. To receive monthly payment for maintenance services, the construction entity must ensure that the roads under the contract meet the service levels indicators as specified in the bidding document. The workload required to ensure that the service levels indicators are met will vary from one month to the next. However, the monthly payment remains the same as long as the contractor maintains the required service levels.

Notably, OPBRCs incentivise the construction entities to be efficient and effective whenever they perform work. To maximise profits, they must reduce work to the smallest possible volume of intelligently designed interventions, while also ensuring that they achieve and maintain the pre-defined service levels over time. Sound managing capacity is essential to ensure that the standard of the roads remain above the agreed service levels. This requires an ability to timeously define, optimise and perform the physical interventions that are needed in the short, medium and long term.

Under the OPBRC, routine maintenance consists of various duties that need to be undertaken frequently to maintain the road’s functionality. Among others, this includes repairing potholes, cleaning drainage, sealing cracks and clearing vegetation. Periodic maintenance comprises predictable and more costly measures of a less frequent nature that will mitigate the degradation of the road over time. This includes, for instance, grading, drainage work, resurfacing and asphaltic concrete overlays.

Jangali says, “Intelligent management, timelines of interventions and appropriate technical solutions are key to the success of OBPRCs. This is where this model of contracting harnesses the skills and experience of the private sector to ensure significant efficiency gains and innovation.”

Under the OBPRC, the construction entity will also be responsible for the continuous monitoring and control of road conditions and service levels included in the contract. This will enable it to fulfil the needs of the contract and provide information on compliance with service level requirements. They will also help inform, plan and define interventions to ensure that service quality indicators never decline below the indicated thresholds. Notably, the employer does not instruct the construction entity on the type and volume of road maintenance works that need to be undertaken. Instead, the onus lies with the construction entity to ensure that it delivers a service according to expectation. He says this is how the OBPRC again ensures efficiency gains and technological innovation by harnessing the skills and capabilities of the private sector.

Notably, this type of procurement also requires sound preparatory engineering work. This includes compiling comprehensive information on the actual condition of the roads that are covered by the contract. If rehabilitation works are required, the employer defines the level of quality or standard that needs to be achieved by the contractor for delivery and completion. For improvement works, a well-designed bill of quantities that defines specific outputs for bidders to price is prepared. This is later used to measure and pay the construction entity. A unit price bill of quantities with estimates is prepared for emergency works for bidders to price for bid evaluation purposes. These unit prices and real measured volumes of emergency works executed are used to pay the construction entity. Another important area that requires sound engineering advice is whether the rehabilitation works should be included in the contract or be undertaken in advance under a separate standard civil works contract. This decision depends on the ability of the construction entity to cost-effectively administer the risk. Generally, when initial works represent more than 40% to 50% of the contract value, the risks may be considered too high warranting an initial separate contract. However, this document needs to be adapted if the employer wants the rehabilitation works to be based on a pre-defined design and connected to future maintenance by the same contractor. In this case, the bill of quantities for rehabilitation works will be modified so that they are similar to those for the emergency works. The measurement and payment clauses should also be modified for an “input” type contract.

JG Afrika and Taivani Consult commenced with the full engineering design, spanning field work through to pavement design, in August 2021. They are working to very tight deadlines to make up for minor delays due to logistical challenges. The design of the 225.3km of roads needs to be completed within seven months so as to avoid delaying the construction works which will be supervised by a monitoring consultant that is still to be appointed.

Taivani Consult has to travel about 600km from Accra to the construction site to complete the surveys and geotechnical studies. The engineers fly from the capital city to Wa and then travel via road to the site.

Extensive use is also being made of digital communication technologies, such as Microsoft Teams, to ensure ongoing communication between JG Afrika in South Africa and Taivani Consult in Ghana. These tools, which were also very effective when restrictions on cross-border travel were implemented to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 virus, will also be used to ensure continued interaction between the various participants in the construction entity during the subsequent phases of the OPBRC.

Jangali lauds the Ghanaian Ministry of Roads and Highways for its innovative approach to road construction that will also ensure the efficient use of public funds.

“Importantly, these contracts are also assisting governments build experience in undertaking public-private partnerships. This is in addition to changing the public sector’s role from being a purchaser of goods or inputs to a purchaser of services – a significant change in traditional relationships between professional teams and client bodies,” he concludes.

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