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Northern Expressway Project

Northern Expressway paves the way for innovation

Written by: Michaela McNamara Produced by: Lorraine Heist

Northern Expressway paves the way for innovation


The construction of the 23-kilometer Northern Expressway near Adelaide in South Australia has taken a significant amount of coordination—between the Department for Transport, Energy and Infrastructure (DTEI) and the communities in which the motorway runs through, hundreds of contractors, utility companies and beyond.

Project Director for DTEI Luigi Rossi says, “A significant effort went into keeping the community and key stakeholders constantly informed and updated on news, road closures, initiatives and the like.”

Construction for the motorway began in 2008 to reduce driving time and increase safety in the Northern Region of Adelaide. The two-lane, dual motorway has seven interchanges and 15 bridge structures. The $564 million project also includes a 12-kilometer upgrade of the existing Port Wakefield Road.

The main contract for the Design and Construct of the motorway was awarded to Fulton Hogan York Civil Joint Venture. New Zealand-based civil contracting firm Fulton Hogan brings earthworks and pavement expertise to the project, while South Australian company York Civil brings structural bridge experience. AECOM and SMEC Alliance were the key designers on the project.


Rossi says one of the key objectives of the Northern Expressway is local industry participation and maximizing local content. Fulton Hogan General Manager for the Western Region Tony Carecos adds, “We wanted to help local industry. Fulton Hogan didn’t want to come in and grab the whole job on our own. We also wanted to build a skills base in South Australia. We chose a company that complemented our skills, which was York Civil.”

The project not only garnered participation from local industry, but gave the local youth and Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders an opportunity to work, improve skills, gain experience and prosper. More than ten percent of the Northern Expressway workforce has been youth and Aboriginal people, and Rossi’s team facilitated government agencies and Fulton Hogan York Joint Venture with assisting the selection process of youth and Aboriginal employees. “We saw that this project could be a catalyst to assist young individuals in entering into the construction industry,” Rossi says.

Rossi adds that a key factor in making the indigenous element work well is the mentoring program that is implemented. “We have a senior Aboriginal employee act as a mentor for the younger staff and that’s worked incredibly well. That’s an innovative approach we’ve taken,” he says.

Carecos adds, “We’ve been quite active in ensuring that we employ significant numbers of Aboriginal people from the local area. We’ve tried to make sure that we give something to the community and employ as many of the 3500 people who have worked on this project as we could from the local area.”


The process of community engagement has been integral to the development of the Northern Expressway. A number of processes were implemented to ensure that stakeholders were continuously informed about the project. Rossi says that an enormous effort has been put into providing information to the community, from bulletins, brochures, letters, a website, and even SMS text messaging. The information was even presented in a variety of languages, as Adelaide is a multicultural area with Cambodian, Italian, Greek, Vietnamese and Yugoslavian residents.

A community room has also been established to provide a physical setting where members of the community can learn about the project. “In the community engagement area, I think we’ve done some excellent work to get everyone on board and make sure they have thorough information,” Rossi says.

The project team collects data to determine how much local participation was garnered and how this impacts on the local economy. Much of that data was collected through the supply chain of more than 880 suppliers and subcontractors. “We want to demonstrate that these projects deliver economic benefits to the local community through the construction phase and then after the project. We’ve done that exercise and that’s been very significant,” Rossi says.

The local utilities and service authorities played a large role during this project, also. Gas pipelines, telecommunication lines and electricity services were relocated to accommodate construction and the utility companies were helpful in getting the project underway.


Both Rossi and Carecos are quick to admit that safety was of the utmost priority during construction of the Northern Expressway. Carecos says, “The other challenge was trying to construct the project in a new way that set a new standard for South Australia. We’ve got an exceptional safety record for the project and Fulton Hogan has a strong safety culture.”

One of the high risk areas on a project like this is trucks tipping over. “What we’ve introduced is a device in the vehicle that warns the truck operator when he’s exceeding the amount of fill in the camper of the truck. If he turns the truck much further, the vehicle may tip over. The device gives him an indication as to how far he can go around curbs or bends before becoming too dangerous. We combined both safety and innovation elements here,” Rossi says.

Innovative techniques were developed from a Design and Construct perspective, also. Carecos says that one of the key issues that had to be overcome were the poor ground conditions. “That required fairly innovative approaches to ensuring that the settlement was reduced and didn’t exceed the tight specification requirements, relating to settlement of the pavements. Existing ground had to be improved before we placed road embankment onto it,” he says.

Instead of removing soil and replacing it with good soil, the team treated the material with a by-product from lime manufacturing. The by-product was mixed into the existing soil, resulting in a stronger ground condition and a more cost-effective solution.

Another innovative solution was implemented to work around the flat terrain of the area. The only material that is won naturally from the project is from side drains. Rossi says that rather than buying fill material from quarries and having an impact on such a valuable resource, the team tried to use materials found on the project, including from the Gawler River. The team was able to locate more than 1.5. million cubic metres of fill from that location and excavate those materials out.

Rossi adds that since the Gawler River is subject to flooding, the team was able to convert borrow pits into wetlands and improve the flood protection of the area. Additional water was captured and put into an aquifer recharge system, which recharges the aquifer and is pumped back into the river. “It was a win-win. We got material for project and ensured better water quality for wetlands,” Rossi says.

From a sustainability perspective, all concrete was recycled on the project. Some of that concrete was used to rehabilitate some of the existing roads. Revegetation was also implemented on the project. Seeds from local plants were collected, and an on-site nursery was established for propagation. Most of the 700,000 plants on the project were taken from the nursery. The drainage system was designed to collect and manage water appropriately.

Rossi and Carecos both agree that the ridability of the motorway is nearly unparalleled in Australia. Special asphalt was introduced, creating better quality for ridability, which determines how smooth the road is. Rossi says, “We introduced specific binders to improve the surface of the road. The smoother the road, the less wear and tear there is on trucks and ultimately the road. This gives the road a longer whole of life. We’ve achieved best practices with this.” Rossi contributes Fulton Hogan’s approach to the manufacture, supply and laying of the asphalt for achieving this.

“Fulton Hogan also introduced a piece of equipment called a shuttle buggy. That piece of equipment interfaces with the paver, but the beauty is that it enables trucks to back into the shuttle buggy. It holds 15 tons of asphalt, and continually mixes it.” Rather than the truck back into the paver, it continuous operation to take place and minimises the number of joins.


Carecos speaks with the same admiration of Rossi and his team. “In terms of Fulton Hogan’s involvement in the project, we’re really pleased with the way the project has turned out. We’re a company that works on relationships with clients and we do strive to achieve the best outcome for the client in a non-litigious way. We’re extremely happy with the relationship we’ve built with the Department for Transport and Luigi Rossi and his team,” Carecos says.

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