Three contractors could be responsible for delivering all smart motorways projects for the next 10 years, Highways England has revealed.
Highways England smart motorways programme director Shaun Pidcock told Construction News the client intended to set up one smart motorways alliance that would run for the next decade.
Three contractors will be joined by two designers on the decade-long deal.
The alliance would cover the period between 2020 and 2030, and would have a five-year break clause to give Highways England the option to remove partners based on performance.
Mr Pidcock said the client would still allocate individual smart motorway projects to the alliance partners on a principal contractor basis, but efficiency incentives would be distributed across the alliance partners.
He said: “Allocating at a principal contractor level would mean there was still accountability for individual projects, but because we are incentivising at the top level it should facilitate much-improved sharing of resources and the supply chain which sits below them.
“We want to get away from a ‘bums on seats’ mentality and any silo thinking in the way we build or procure.”
The programme director said Highways England will consult further on the plan and was open to suggestions on how it could be refined.
Highways England’s initial smart motorways plan was to create one large joint venture to deliver all smart motorways work; however, this was rejected by the supply chain, Mr Pidcock said.
The proposed alliance would also include one central logistics hub to be used as a base to design and plan work and manufacture components on the smart motorways network.
“Bringing the tier twos up into a central hub will mean we have everybody working virtually or physically in the same place,” Mr Pidcock said.
“It will allow us be able to work closer with the tier twos so they are not at that contractual arm’s length.”
It comes as part of a drive by Highways England to move towards greater modularisation of road components such as gantries.
Mr Pidcock: “We are looking at how we maximise use of offsite work by pulling together centrally; this will allow us to drive efficiencies.”
He added that engagement with offsite manufacturing would be crucial to Highways England in selecting contractors and designers for the alliance.
“We are looking for contractors who have a different way of thinking, who can bring that offsite manufacturing mentality and can work effectively in an alliance,” he said.
“For the designer, we will be looking at a digital rules-based design where we can reduce the amount of sends, and cut the cost of front-end design for areas that are repetitive.”
The current smart motorways programme includes seven contractors and six designers.
Asked whether Highways England would be looking to choose from just these existing firms, Mr Pidcock said it was “not a closed shop”.
“When we look at what we have delivered, we have beaten efficiency targets set, we have progressed well, but we want to take it to the next level.
“[Being on] the current programme is not barrier of entry at all, but equally we have a lot of expertise we definitely don’t want to ditch.”
Highways England’s current smart motorways contractors
- Balfour Beatty
- Galliford Try
- Bam Nuttall
- Morgan Sindall
*Carillion was initially picked as a smart motorways contractor but went into liquidation in January