The Mordialloc Freeway will fill the missing nine-kilometre link between Mornington Peninsula and South East Melbourne. Due for completion late 2021, we catch up with program director Brendan Pauwels to find out how the major works are progressing.
In May 2017, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the Budget for 2017/18 included $300 million in funding for the nine-kilometre Mordialloc Freeway.
Andrews said the government will build the Mordialloc Bypass to “slash congestion and create jobs in Melbourne’s South East”.
The freeway would create a seamless link between the Mornington Peninsula Freeway in Aspendale Gardens to the Dingley Bypass in Dingley Village.
Travel time savings of up to 10 minutes in each direction are expected alongside the diversion of 13,000 trucks from local roads.
Three years later and the project is halfway through major construction. Roads & Infrastructure sat down with Brendan Pauwels, Project Director for the Mordialloc Freeway to learn about the construction journey so far.
“We’re now halfway through the delivery phase. Though prior to that we went through a lengthy Environmental Effects Statement process, so we’ve been working on this project for a few years now,” he says.
“In construction we’ve clocked over 750,000 worker hours now and we’ve made good progress on all fronts with all types of work happening; civil, structural, earthworks and pavement works.”
The major project has many smaller sections including five bridges over existing roads, twin bridges over wetlands, entry and exit ramps, two new connecting intersections and a walking and cycling path.
Pauwels says the first half of 2020 saw significant earthworks progression. With unique ground conditions and environmentally sensitive land to work with, extra planning and contingency was required.
“At Waterways we will have twin bridges which are almost 400 metres long to build. All of the piling that is now done, 368 piles in total have been installed. That is all across the wetlands too, so we’ve built a causeway over the wetlands to make a working platform first and then have driven all the piles in for the structure there,” Pauwels says.
“We have started pouring the cross sets for those structures and eight out of 24 are poured now. We are making progress on that section which is the biggest structure of the job.”
In addition, almost three million tonnes of fill material has been brought into the project, to build the freeway alignment above the average surface level. Asphalt works have also begun in the areas with lower fill heights and almost two kilometres of asphalt has already been paved.
“In terms of our bridges we got our first beams up in November at Old Dandenong Road and in early December we poured the deck. We are close to being able to drive from one end to the other now, without having to use the local network,” Pauwels says.
Challenges and opportunities
For 2020 much of the focus was on the earthworks phase of the project, and the team will be moving onto more structural work this year.
Earthworks have been a large part of the project given the unique ground conditions presented on location.
“Some of the ground conditions are tough out there,” Pauwels says.
“At Governor Road for instance, our embankment is currently three metres higher than it will ultimately be because we are surcharging that ground to help it settle before we do the pavement layers. Then we will reuse that material as top-soil elsewhere.”
He says most of the works are in environmentally sensitive areas. As most of the project runs along Braeside Park, works are close to the Waterways Estate and wetlands in that area.
“There are several bird species that are naturally protected living in the wetlands, the connectivity between habitats is important so ensuring we’re building in a manner to limit the noise and dust on the surface has been a focus.”
“Most of the project is on swamp ground which is why it’s a fill job. You couldn’t cut and reuse any of the material. We’ve used wick drains to help draw the moisture out of the ground to help with settlement as we do our earthworks,” he says.
High fill areas on the project have had periods of between three and six months to settle depending on the ground conditions.
“We have settlement plates in a number of spots to make sure we aren’t going to end up with a legacy problem down the track. We’re closely monitoring the response of the ground when we load up with fill material,” Pauwels says.
The freeway then crosses a landfill site towards the northern end of the project, which has been inactive for around 30 years.
While the landfill has not been active for three decades, the activity and gasses coming from the landfill meant the project team had to develop a gas ventilation system.
“We had to design a gas ventilation system so that as the landfill combusts and gasses come up naturally, we have the right flow paths for that so the gas can come out from underneath the concrete slab that we are putting on top of it,” Pauwels says.
The bridge over the landfill was designed specifically to allow contingencies during piling, so that if any foreign bodies were hit in the landfill, this could be counteracted.
“There were around 220 piles in and there were eight of those where we had to drive replacement piles. We were aware of other projects that have had issues piling through old landfills, so we had to make sure the design had enough contingency in it to be able to deal with those issues,” he says.
“We’ve now finished all the piling at that site, and we’ve cast the 180 metre long deck for that section. The deck is there so if the ground beneath the road in the landfill keeps combusting and settling the road will not give way,” Pauwels says.
In addition to the civil, structural and environmental impacts of this major project, construction began in 2019 and continued through significant lockdown periods in Victoria in 2020.
While construction could continue with reduced personnel, the executive team and state government workers on the project work from home, except for essential field inspections.
“Our contractors were allowed to keep going but they had to manage the project differently,” Pauwels says.
Workers were split into about six work zones between each road crossing and each person was allocated to a particular zone to manage cross contamination.
“We had to change small things like the pre-start meeting, we staggered those to do more of them with less people at each one. We had to consider on site vehicles and how many people could access those. Mask wearing with safety glasses was also a challenge, but we used tape to overcome that,” he says.
“One of the other challenges was with the community being home while we were making noise during the day. We were right outside their backyards, when usually they would be out at work or school.”
Sensitivity from the surrounding community meant the project implemented extra dust and noise monitoring. The team was also careful to try and limit certain works to different times in the day to reduce impact for people at home.
Though Pauwels says there were some positive aspects as a result of the lockdowns.
“Less traffic on the road gave us the possibility to do more closures or traffic disruption events that we otherwise would not have been able to do,” he says.
In 2020 the crews closed Old Dandenong Road, Woodlands Drive and Centre Dandenong Road for construction blitzes.
“We’ve definitely taken those opportunities to try and do a lot of work in short periods of time for road closures which might then limit the disruptive nature of the project at the other end of the works,” Pauwels says.
He says the work between Major Road Projects Victoria (MRPV) and the contractor has been a good example of how MRPV would like to work with contractors going forward in the active client model.
Social and environmental impacts
On top of considerations for the sensitive land recycled products, diverse employment and procurement have been key considerations on the project.
For the first time on a freeway in Victoria, Major Road Projects is using SI asphalt with 30 per cent reclaimed asphalt incorporated.
“We’re bringing in crushed concrete for all of our access tracks and our shared path. We’ve laid 2.1 kilometres of drainage pipes which are made from recycled plastic,” Pauwels says.
The project has government set targets for employment and procurement. The team has an aboriginal employment target of 2.5 per cent of hours worked, there is also a local content target of around 96 per cent and a social procurement target to spend three per cent of the budget through local suppliers.
“We’ve worked with some companies that have really helped us with these goals, Ability Works is one. They are a company that employs people with disabilities to manufacture our settlement plates,” he says.
Yarra View Nursery, a local social enterprise is the main contractor for plant supply on the project. PPE onsite is being supplied by Geared Up Culcha, an aboriginal company that exclusively distribute King Gee work boots with unique aboriginal artwork on the shoe sole and Veterans In Construction has built much of the accommodation on site.
Still to come…
With completion on the horizon for the end of 2021, major construction will continue throughout the year.
Once complete the project is expected to save commuters up to 10 minutes in travel time between the Dingley Bypass and Springvale Road while taking around 13,000 trucks off local roads daily.
“With more and more people finding they can live somewhere different, travelling into the city from places like the Mornington Peninsula is more of a possibility and this freeway will make that easier,” Pauwels says.