The Morpeth Northern Bypass project is on track to be completed by March 2017. Reporter Andrew Coulson recently went on a tour of the site to find out more about the various works and engagement that are being carried out.
When we think of major bypass projects, most people will think of workers laying asphalt and constructing bridges.
But just as important are the team behind the scenes – from those involved in the state-of-the-art computer modelling to the experts making sure there are suitable habitats for the local bat population.
I discovered this first-hand when I went to have a closer look at the Morpeth Northern Bypass site.
This project has been discussed for many years and the application for the link road was submitted in summer 2013.
After going through all the legal stages, it received final approval from the Department for Transport and construction works began in spring 2015.
Once completed, the £30million scheme will cut congestion in Morpeth and reduce travel time between the A1 and south east Northumberland.
As a result, it will benefit a number of businesses in the county.
It will link the A1 to the already completed Pegswood Bypass and complete the link to Ashington and Blyth. The project is a partnership between Northumberland County Council and Carillion, which is carrying out the works.
This week, the finishing touches were being applied to the road structure in the Pegswood Moor area.
One of the people I spoke to during my visit was project manager Scott Beattie, who said: “We had problems in January and February because of the significant rainfall, but the dry conditions over the summer has enabled the team to make good progress.
“Despite the other challenges and unexpected issues we’ve come across when working on the site, we’ve hit the key milestone dates and are on course to complete the scheme on time.
“Vehicles are currently using the slip roads at St Leonard’s junction, but the main A1 with two lanes on each carriageway should be back open to traffic again in late November or in December.
As part of the works on the landscape, a number of hedges and trees will be planted over the winter and the cycle path, which can be used by pedestrians and horse riders as well, is also being extended across the bypass site.
“Every sub-contractor involved, apart from specialists, are local to Northumberland and the North East and materials are locally sourced. In addition, tar-bound planings from across the county have been recycled for the scheme.
“Once everything is finished, the final layers of road surfacing will be put in place.
“In terms of the future development of engineers in the region, this project has been a great experience for our apprentices and trainee engineers.”
He added that a planting and landscaping scheme for the new roundabout at Northgate is being worked on in partnership with Morpeth Town Council and Heighley Gate Nursery and Garden Centre.
A major part of the project is works and activities in relation to the environment, including wildlife conservation.
For example, new bat roosts are being set up close to the site, bat boxes have been put in place on site and the culvert at How Burn is larger than normal due to the high-flying bats in the area.
A mammal underpass has been installed and amphibians found in the ponds on site have been relocated.
Extensive tree, shrub and hedgerow planting is being carried out along the bypass route and exclusion zones have been put in place for nesting birds that have been found by the ecologists from EcoNorth.
Leanne August, senior sustainability manager at Carillion, said: “The teams on site are very well educated about the wildlife in the area and we take measures to protect the various animals.
“The works have included ramps and other methods being installed at manholes and excavations to allow badgers to get out of them if required.
“If any trees that may contain bats need to be cut down, we use soft felling and leave them for 24 hours so any bats can leave of their own accord.
“We have won a national award for our community engagement on our biodiversity works with school pupils and a range of local organisations.”
In addition, barriers and fencing have been put in place across the site to prevent any silt from the construction entering the burns and ponds.
Innovative technology is essential in the planning for major projects and Morpeth Northern Bypass has been using a building information modelling (BIM) process.
It involves producing designs in a 3D format and linking them to a 4D programme, which enables the engineers to add in existing roads and infrastructure, and this helps to identify and resolve potential problem issues before construction begins.
BIM manager Adam Robson said: “The 3D models go straight out to the excavators on site, removing the need for a team of engineers to have to go out there and set it all out.
“It has been a big learning curve in getting the hardware and technology to work together, but it has definitely worked well on this project and BIM is now being rolled out to other Carillion projects in the UK.”
More information about the scheme is available at www.morpethnorthernbypass.org and road users can stay up-to-date with any closures for the remaining works by following it on Twitter – @MorpethBypass
The works have included installing 16km of fencing, twice the height of Everest when put together.
A total of 28km of drainage was installed – enough to stretch from Morpeth to Newcastle.
380,000m3 of earth was moved and replaced, enough to fill 152 Olympic swimming pools.
Zone 1: St Leonard’s junction and St Leonard’s to Northgate link.
Zone 2: Northgate roundabout.
Zone 3: Cotting Burn embankment and Fulbeck cutting/St George’s roundabout.
Zone 4: St George’s How Burn, How Burn embankment, Pegswood Moor opencast cutting, Pegswood Moor embankment, Pegswood Moor/Whorral Bank cutting.