A30 Road Improvements: Supporting Kier Group with on-site testing laboratory

The A30 is, historically, one of the most important roads in the United Kingdom, as it forms the main transportation route connecting the county of Cornwall to the rest of Britain.

Between the M5 and Carland Cross Roundabout, the road is almost completely dualled, allowing tens of thousands of daily road users to reach their destinations quickly and efficiently. However, up until the summer of 2017, one small section east of Bodmin between Temple and Higher Carblake still remained a single carriageway.

This 4.5 kilometre stretch of road often led to bottlenecks, impacting on the flow of traffic. The local council estimated that slow-moving traffic cost the region around £10m a year in lost time alone. Over the last decade, the section has been the subject of many development plans. In 2015, as part of a wave of strategic national road improvement projects, Government permission was granted to finally create the missing link of dual carriageway.

As part of a £59 million construction project, Kier was appointed by Cornwall Council and Highways England as the primary contractor to carry out the works. The proposed scheme was designed to relieve congestion and lessen journey times, while also encouraging growth and investment in Cornwall by enhancing its connections with the rest of the country.


Ensuring safety and compliance

The A30 works, beginning in summer 2015, involved the complete construction of two additional lanes and three grade-separated bridges at strategic locations along the newly-dualled route. These would provide access onto and off the trunk road in both directions.

With large scale road improvement projects, there are a number of legal issues that the developer must take into consideration. To ensure that construction resources and the materials being handled consistently met required specifications and were compliant with relevant regulations, SOCOTEC, the UK’s leading provider of testing, inspection and compliance services, was brought on board.

SOCOTEC, formerly ESG, was awarded an 18 month contract from Kier to provide a UKAS-accredited on-site testing facility, capable of supporting the project requirements during construction for earthworks, structures, drainage and carriageway testing. As part of the £300,000 agreement, SOCOTEC provided a full range of multi-disciplinary testing and reporting services to support the road’s expansion and simplify the compliance process for Kier.

SOCOTEC’s Flexible Scope UKAS accreditation for Site laboratories was implemented for this project. This meant that – on successful completion of internal audit – UKAS accreditation could be claimed with immediate effect. 

Due to an increasing number of projects in the UK’s construction pipeline, today’s site owners and contractors now need large amounts of environmental data on a quicker turnaround basis. The A30 project saw SOCOTEC’s team of experts set up its purpose-built in-situ technical support facility that would provide Kier with an efficient, cost-effective service. The on-site laboratory offered increased levels of flexibility for the testing of constituent materials, soil and water. This allowed all of the test information to be quickly reviewed and recorded in the project summary database and immediately reported back to Kier’s site team.

The mobile laboratory supported faster decision making on site, while minimising the amount of unnecessary traffic on the road. For Kier, the information and results provided by SOCOTEC meant the team had a better understanding of available materials on site. This supported them in the production of a materials handling plan.


One point of contact

Within the laboratory, which contained personnel accommodation, three multi-disciplined SOCOTEC technicians were permanently based on site to deal with any materials sampling or testing issues as they arose and to carry out on-site sampling and analysis services as required by the contract specification.

To ensure the compliant construction of the three bridges, the concrete used on the scheme was tested in accordance with the relevant British and European Standards. These tests included sampling, as well as workability and compressive strength analysis to confirm the concrete met the mix design’s specified strength. From the materials laboratory, SOCOTEC was able to cast the cubes, store and crush them on site, which significantly streamlined the testing process, and therefore turnaround times, for Kier.

As well as concrete testing for the A30, SOCOTEC’s team of specialists was also called upon by Kier to carry out PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) analysis for the bituminous material raised on site to ensure they were suitable for re-use. SOCOTEC’s Waste Classification Assessments and technical guidance around fly-tipped and various other materials also ensured complete project compliance. This testing was carried out at SOCOTEC’s specialist chemistry laboratory based in Bretby, South Derbyshire.

Various on-site tests were carried out by SOCOTEC. These included the use of an in-situ nuclear density gauge to verify the density and degree of compaction of placed materials supporting the two new lanes. Other in-situ tests included DCPs, Plate Load, Coring, Pull outs, Rolling Straight Edge and Macro Texture analysis.

As the A30 project is located around water sources, the surrounding water needed to be monitored for environmental contamination on a monthly basis under requirements from the Environment Agency. Due to SOCOTEC’s extensive capabilities in water testing, Kier was able to take advantage of the company’s expertise in this field as well. During the works, SOCOTEC was tasked with monitoring for harmful levels of metal contaminants, pollutants and legionella bacteria in groundwater and in the project’s silt buster.


Faster and flexible on-site reporting

The use of SOCOTEC’s mobile laboratories also made the reporting process much simpler, with the organisation’s staff members providing live updates to Kier from the site with complete summaries or individual reports issued on a weekly basis or on demand.

Jim Murphy, managing director, Infrastructure & Energy Services, SOCOTEC said: “Reducing turnaround times and providing accurate test data is a key demand in the sector and is essential for completing projects on schedule. The ability to operate an in situ laboratory allowed SOCOTEC to rapidly deliver a broad range of testing services for Kier without leaving the site. Our on-site capabilities were also complemented by a full range of material and chemical tests at SOCOTEC’s state of the art facilities around the country.”

Steve Mack, Kier project manager for the A30 said: “As we didn’t have to leave the site to send samples to SOCOTEC, the whole compliance process was made much simpler. The fact that we had one point of contact for all support as well as one monthly invoice streamlined our operations and helped us save both time and money.

“SOCOTEC’s approach meant the team was able to respond to real-time demands and provide us with an excellent level of service, helping us minimise disruption for holiday and weekend travellers.

“This new stretch of road will undoubtedly boost the local economy and strengthen Cornwall’s ties to the rest of the UK. We’re thankful to SOCOTEC for supporting us with a fast and flexible materials testing service.”

For more information about SOCOTEC’s materials testing and specialist chemistry services, contact salesuk@socotec.com