WEB EXCLUSIVE: Construction of the Greater São Paulo Beltway

By Richard High24 November 2008

Construction of the US$ 3.6 billion Rodoanel Mario Covas (Greater São Paulo Beltway) is designed to

Construction of the US$ 3.6 billion Rodoanel Mario Covas (Greater São Paulo Beltway) is designed to alleviate congestion and reduce pollution and freight costs.

Construction of the US$ 3.6 billion, 170 km-long Rodoanel Mario Covas (Greater São Paulo Beltway) has started again after a break of five years and, thanks to state funding, should be finished in time for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Richard High reports.

With a population of about 17.9 million (10% of Brazil's total), São Paulo is the most populous city in South America, and one of the largest cities in the world - the metropolitan region covers about 7900 km2.

The commercial and financial centre of Brazil, at present 93% of its freight is carried on a road system so antiquated that 100 km ‘mega' traffic jams are commonplace. In bad weather, at weekends and holidays these can be as long as 200 km, effectively shutting down the city.

Of the 1.1 million vehicles that drive into São Paulo every day, almost 30% - 300000 - are just passing through on-route to somewhere else. Of these, 19000 are trucks, many bound for the port of Santos. (São Paulo straddles the Tietê River, and is separated from its port of Santos, 60 km away on the Atlantic Ocean, by a steep mountain slope, known as the Great Escarpment.)

These heavy vehicles damage the roads, while adding to the city's high levels of pollution and immense congestion. The time taken to navigate around the city also means freight transportation costs in São Paulo state are incredibly high.

In an effort to alleviate the toll on the city's roads and the population's health, São Paulo's state government has again started construction of the 170 km-long SP-21, also known as the Rodoanel Mario Covas or Greater São Paulo Beltway. Expectations are the Beltway will cut congestion by -40%, accidents by -67% and carbon monoxide emissions by -6%.

While the West Section was completed in 2002, construction of the South Section only started in 2007. The East and North Sections, currently in the design phase, are due to start in 2009 and 2010 respectively. The North Section will be the last to finish in 2012. Given its complexity construction will be divided into two sections, worked on simultaneously.

The West, South and East Sections should be ready to connect by the end of 2012, with the whole Beltway connected by the end of 2013, in time for the 2014 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup.

Deep cuts

In an effort to expedite construction of the 64 km-long US$ 1.7 billion South Section, which is being managed by Desenvolvimento Rodoviario SA (Dersa), which represents the São Paulo state government, has been divided into five Lots. All five are being worked on simultaneously.

Lot 1 - Mauá to Anchieta, BRL 505 million (US$ 227 million), 12.5 km - is being constructed by the Andrade Gutierrez/Galvão Engenharia consortium. Lot 2 - Anchieta to Imigrantes, BRL 515 million (US$ 231.5 million), 6.9 km - by the Arcosul Consortium, which consists of construction giants Odebrecht and Constran.

Lot 3 - Imigrantes to Billings, BRL 562 million (US$ 248 million), 7.2 km - is by the Queiroz Galvão/CR. Almeida consortium, while Lot 4 - Billings to Guarapiranga, BRL 505 million (US$ 227 million), 17.5 km - is being constructed by the Camargo Correa/Serveng consortium.

The last of the five Lots - Guarapiranga to Régis Bittencourt, BRL 512 million (US$ 225 million), 18.5 km is in the hands of the Construtora OAS/Mendes Jr/Carioca Engenharia consortium.

Just 6.9 km-long, Lot 2 includes nine bridges, two overpasses and 12 underpasses. It also involves some of the deepest cuts - 120 m - and largest fills - 60 m, a job that falls to earthmoving contractor, Contern Construções e Comércio.

Contern has been in business for 30 years and remains family owned. Part of the Bertin Group, the company has set itself the target of being Brazil's fifth largest contractor by 2010, while its strategic plan is to expand abroad.

At present São Paulo state is its largest market, with infrastructure - airports, hydroelectric power, ports, roads and railways - generating the largest slice of its income.

Machine family

While the biggest part of its work at Lot 2 is earthmoving the company is also constructing several concrete structures, including bridges and viaducts alongside several smaller access roads.

Over 350 of its 2700 staff are currently working on the site, using 150 heavy pieces of overwhelmingly new construction equipment. The company invested over US$ 14 million to complete this section of the Rodoanel.

The oldest machine dates to 2004 and was purchased new, although most were acquired in late 2007, when the project started, and early 2008, which was when earth moving actually started.

Volvo construction equipment accounts for 65% of the fleet, with over 50 excavators - EC210 (21.7 tonnes, 110 kW) and EC360 (38 tonnes, 184 kW) - and 15 wheel loaders - L50, L90 & L120 (7.85 to 19 tonnes and 66 to 180 kW respectively) - being supplied by local dealer Tracbel. Over 6 million m3 of earth needs to be moved in Lot 2 so the machines are working around the clock in three shifts moving over 26000 m3 per day.

Explaining the rationale behind choosing to dominate Contern's fleet with Volvo machines, equipment manager Márcio Henrique Loureiro, said, "The mentality of the Bertin Group is that when we buy one machine, and are satisfied with it, then we want to make a family of them. The advantage of this is that we know the dealer, we know how to fix them and we know that they work well for us."

The scale and construction schedule of Lot 2 - large and fast tracked - puts pressure on both men and machine, as both must consistently perform at high levels.

"The visibility is good on the Volvos," explained Mr. Loureiro, "they are powerful and well laid out, and everything falls easily to hand, which was something our operators wanted because it makes the work easier and they are more productive.

This also impacts on the service and maintenance requirements. "Under warranty, we want the dealer to support us 100%. But after that, the manuals are easy to understand and the common problems simple to fix, so we carry out this work ourselves," said Mr Loureiro, adding machine availability at the time of KHL.com's visit was over 90%.

A key component of the fleet strategy is training, with Contern making sure operators understand how to get the best performance from their machines. "Our maintenance costs have fallen drastically since we began the training, while productivity has risen," commented Mr. Loureiro.

Springboard

Funding for the South Section comes from São Paulo's State Government, with central government funds under its Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) covering the costs of both the North and East Sections. While the political will to complete the Beltway is apparent there have still been some obstacles to completion, such as environmental concerns.

Environmental Impact Assessments were carried out long before enabling works on the Beltway began, explained Mr Loureiro. This meant moving people, flora and fauna.

Integrating the new road into the old transport network was also problematic, he added. "It was very, very difficult because there were no maps to show us where the old utility network was, and then there is the rain, which falls from September to May, making the ground heavy and sticky."

This can affect productivity with carry back in the haulers and clogging of excavator tracks. This in turn can lead to heavier maintenance requirements, explained Mr Loureiro.

Miraculously, he added, the Contern team remains ahead of schedule.

"While there are difficulties within this project - utility connection, the environmental concerns - it's still at heart a straightforward earth moving and road building project. Of course completing this project will enhance our reputation and hopefully mean we win more work.

"And it is a shop window for the whole country. It is, and should be, a springboard to better things for us, São Paulo and the country as a whole," concluded Mr Loureiro.

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