Enabling works have started in Antwerp, Belgium on the world’s highest value NEC contract to date. The NEC4 Engineering and Construction Contract (ECC) Option C (target contract with activity schedule) for section 3B of the Oosterweel ring road project currently has a target cost of €3.25 billion (£2.8 billion).
Government-owned client Lantis let the contract in January 2021 to TM Roco, a joint venture of Besix, Cordeel, DEME, Denys, Franki Construct, Jan de Nul, Van Laere and Willemen Infra. Another €0.55 billion (£0.5 billion) NEC4 ECC Option C contract was let at the same time for section 3A to Rinkoniên Oosterweelknoop, a joint venture of Artes Group, CIT Blaton, Stadsbader, Mobilis and Boskalis.
Both contracts include option X22 for early contractor involvement (ECI) and are currently in the ECI stage. However, initial enabling works are already underway, including relocating the existing ring road exit and installing a 2 km long flood culvert in Merksem, and building a new temporary road across Royers lock in the docks area. Lantis is project manager and supervisor on both contracts.
Closing and lowering the ring
The NEC-procured works form the right bank part of the giant project to close Antwerp’s often congested R1 ring road via a new tunnel under the river Scheldt. A 4 km mostly elevated section of the dual-four-lane ring road will also be lowered into cuttings and cut-and-cover tunnels to reduce its social and environmental impact.
Contract 3A is for the complex sunken Oosterweel interchange at the northern portal of the new river crossing and is due for completion in 2027. Measuring nearly 2 km long, the interchange will provide full connectivity with existing roads in the docks and Eilandje residential area.
The much larger contract 3B involves building a 4 km long double-deck tunnel under the docks and Albert Canal to connect the new interchange to the existing ring road, the extensive lowering of which is also part of the contract. Up to 130,000 vehicles use the ring road each day and, to keep these moving during the works, a temporary bypass will first be built alongside. Contract 3B is due for completion in 2030.
NEC4 ECC knowledge centre
Lantis has recently set up an ‘NEC4 ECC Knowledge Centre’ to serve as an information resource for all those working on the right-bank NEC contracts. Centre coordinator Amanda Meeder says the country’s first use of NEC is a learning curve for all involved. ‘The NEC4 ECC Knowledge Centre will disseminate and safeguard knowledge at an overarching level, streamline and further develop the implementation of contractual frameworks and mechanisms, and also exchange and share knowledge through collaboration with the contractors.’
Project manager Roland van Driel adds that it will also ensure that all lessons learned on the project will be available for future NEC contracts in Belgium. ‘Ultimately it will become a mature and developed concept that can be used for future, similar challenges thanks to the learning and improvement experience gained with the Oosterweel project.’
In addition to option X22, each of the pioneering NEC contracts uses 14 other X clauses, W and Y clauses adapted to Belgian legislation, and a series of customised Z clauses.
Temporary bypass construction
Construction of the northern part of the temporary ring road bypass is due to start as part of contract 3B in the first quarter of 2024. It will be built partly on the existing and new alignments of the ring road and will come into to use in phases during 2025 and 2026.
Most construction materials required for construction works will be delivered by water via temporary moorings being built on the Scheldt. Over the next five years these are planned to handle 600,000 t of cement, sand and gravel and 270,000 m3 of soil.
The largest NEC contract award to date is High Speed Two’s £1.3 billion ECC Option C construction partner contract for Euston Station, which was let to Mace and Dragados in 2019 though the work is currently paused. The second biggest is the Hong Kong Civil Engineering Development Department’s HK$12 billion (£1.2 billion) ECC Option B (priced contract with activity schedule) contract for Tung Chung New Town Extension reclamation works, which was completed in January 2023.
The previous largest NEC contract in mainland Europe was the €190 million (£160 million) ECC Option C for the new International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, which was completed in 2015. NEC has also been used in Europe for several large supply contracts in recent years, including tunnel boring machines for Thames Tideway and High Speed Two.