In the fast lane. The race is on to complete the second stage of Europe’s largest highway project in Poland in time for the country to co-host the Euro 2012 football championship. Elizabeth Tilley reports.

A flurry of development has taken over the newly confident Poland as it embarks on its largest investment programme since the fall of communism. Why? To improve the transport network in the lead up to co-hosting the Euro 2012 European Football Championship, along with Ukraine, in April 2012. A colossal €20 billion is being ploughed into improvements in the country's infrastructure as a result of its winning bid. With European Union and Polish government funding, the lion's share of the cash will be spent on the country's transport system, which has been largely ignored for over 40 years. The biggest road project to be undertaken is the A1 Autostrada, an economically vital road that will connect Poland with its major ports on the Baltic coast.

Going the distance

The A1 motorway is the biggest road project in Poland - and the current biggest in Europe. When completed, the highway will travel the entire length of the country north to south from Gdansk to Gorzyczki, totaling 568km and forming part of the Trans-European Transport route connecting Norway with Greece. Work started in October 2005 on the first phase of the project, a 100km stretch, which was completed in 2008. The second phase - worth €750 million - is now underway, comprising a total of 62km of four-lane highway between Grudziądz and Toruń, where the project joins the first phase. The new phase includes 51 bridges, of which the longest across the Vistula River will be about 2,000m long.

The project is being funded by public private partnership (PPP). Gdansk Transport Company is responsible for operation and maintenance of both phases, 152km in total, until 2039. The construction is being undertaken by Skanska Poland and NDI in a joint venture. "The roads in Poland are in poor condition and very congested so this highway is extremely important," says Tomasz Jakubik, Volvo Construction Equipment Poland's Sales Administration Manager. "If we have a good connection with the north and south of Europe, our sea ports will become more competitive and it will make exporting and importing faster." It currently takes at least 10 hours to travel from the north to the south of Poland, but the A1 motorway will shorten this journey to under six hours.

Proven performer

Skanska-NDI is employing the largest fleet of construction equipment in the country, worth more than €45 million, to work on the A1 motorway project. During the peak of the second phase, there will be 4500 people working as part of the construction team. Volvo Construction Equipment has been awarded the largest share of the equipment contract. Local distributor Volvo Maszyny Budowlane Polska has supplied 66 Volvo machines - 50 A40E haulers, four EW160C wheeled excavators, three EC360CL crawler excavators, three EC460CLs and six EC210CLs. The A35EFS articulated hauler will also be tested on the project site. "This will be the first time an A35EFS has been used in Poland, so we thought it would be a good time to test it on Poland's biggest construction project," says Tomasz.

The Volvo dealer has set up a workshop at the site, stationing up to six mechanics, one project manager, six fully equipped service vans, two 4x4 pick-ups (for rapid response where the vans can't get to) - and a well stocked parts container. Skanska is one of Volvo Construction Equipment's key accounts and this close relationship, coupled with the superior performance of Volvo's machines, is why Volvo was chosen as the major supplier from the very start of the project. "We were also the main supplier for phase one and I think we were selected again based on our performance during this initial important stage," says Tomasz. "We also offer good after sales support, which is very important for a project like this."

The heat is on

With just over two years until the Euro 2012 European Football Championship, the pressure is on Poland to prove it can cope with the impending influx of tourists. Property developers and construction companies are driving investment in infrastructure, driven by orders to build hotels and sports facilities, but highway spending is the biggest element of the government's investment programme. Along with the A1 motorway, 2,000km of new roads are due for completion by 2013. A new airport has been approved for construction near Warsaw, which is hoped will take pressure off the city's congested Okecie airport as the football events will be held in five cities around the country. With Poland sitting in a strategically important position in the middle of Europe, improving its road system will also have benefits for neighbouring countries wanting to trade with EU members via Poland.

Road to recovery

Transport infrastructure is widely recognised as a determining factor for improving the economic development of a country. An undeveloped or substandard infrastructural network creates barriers to the free movement of people, goods, services, capital and production factors. Poland's existing national road network is in a state of disrepair, which has a negative effect on the localization of foreign industries and services, as well as on international trade with the European Union and bordering countries. But that is all about to improve. With 360,000m3 of earthworks being completed each month, the much-anticipated A1 motorway looks set to be on track for completion in April 2012, when all eyes will be on Poland for Euro 2012. And while the finish line may be nearing for the A1 Autostrada, a new era of faster, cheaper and safer transport in Poland is just beginning.

Road construction

Road construction

Text: Elizabeth Tilley