Strategic Links: The Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway Project

December 5, 2017 in Infrastructure

Traditionally, oil reserves have been the source of prosperity in Kuwait’s high-income economy. Now, the Kuwaiti government are diversifying the economy with a new causeway link.

Two new causeway links are developing across Kuwait Bay. One link will connect the densely populated city of Kuwait with its remote north. The other will connect the city of Kuwait to the land near Doha.

The build is being managed by Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway Project (SJSC), who started their work on the causeway in 2014.

The project’s main link, the Subbiyah Causeway, is a 36.1km long bridge with six lanes in both directions. The bridge stretches across the bay, connecting the Shuwaikh Port in Kuwait City to a new development site in the north. It sits on more than 1,500 bored piles which have a diameter of three metres each.

The impressive bridge has been implemented strategically, connecting Kuwait City to the up and coming northern town ‘Silk City’, in Subbiyah. Silk City, which is officially recognised as Madinat al-Hareer, will revive the ancient Silk Road trade route by establishing a major free trade zone linking the Gulf to central Asia and Europe. The area will become a new regional finance centre: a hub of commercial investment by 2030.

The new infrastructure will reduce the driving time between Kuwait City and Subbiya from 90 minutes to 25 minutes. Traders, commuters and visitors can expect a modern, efficient access route to Madinat al-Hareer.

26 separate buildings and two artificial islands (30 hectares each) have been designed to enhance the scenic value of the drive. The islands and the buildings will be visible from the bridge, which stands between 9 and 23 metres above sea level.

SJSC are also constructing the 12.4 kilometre marine bridge structure, running west towards Doha. This smaller link will reduce road congestion and provide a faster connection between the Shuwaikh Port area and Entertainment City in the western Doha peninsula.

In November 2012, the Kuwait Ministry of Public Works signed a contract with a consortium of Hyundai and Combined Group Contracting CO. (CGC) to design and build the causeway.

GS Engineering & Construction won the smaller Doha Link contract.

SYSTRA was tasked with designing the entire causeway, and produced a total of 14 650 plans. Its teams chose to use single-pile foundations and to build the deck, span by span.

Other project partners include AECOM, Dar Al-Handasah (Shair and Partners), TYLN International, SSH International and Aconex.

Henry Jones, senior vice president at Aconex, said:

“The Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway is one of the world’s longest and most complex bridge projects”

“We are pleased with the opportunity to support the development through all phases of its lifecycle. The causeway is one of many examples of how Aconex is contributing to the successful delivery of transportation infrastructure projects throughout the Middle East.”

The developments are providing a new source of income into the oil-rich emirate. Kuwait’s emir, Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, spoke of plans at the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Centre to radically transform the country into a “Financial, cultural and institutional leader in the region by 2035”.

He said:

“Today we launch initiatives that will transform our economy, create jobs, attract foreign direct investments and facilitate knowledge transfer in the fields of renewable energy, information technology and the services sector. Today we launch a consolidated and comprehensive strategy that will empower and inspire the country for generations to come.”

The causeway construction has been developing well within the timeframe, according to  Ahmad Al Hassan, assistant undersecretary for road engineering at the public works ministry. On speaking to Albawaba, she said:

“We have already completed 73 percent of the project and hope to finish it ahead of the contractual period”

Bader Al Refai, Assistant Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Planning, said the “engineering marvel” is poised to become the world’s largest sea bridge. He added that the causeway will turn out to be a major tourist attraction with a huge impact in the revival of the northern area of Kuwait and its future cities and projects.

Although great progress has been made, the build has faced some constructional difficulties. Providing stable foundations was a big challenge to overcome. Soil investigations at the Shuwaikh Port end of the route found large quantities of sand in very loose, medium dense and very dense conditions. Data from the ground investigation also revealed that there was a combination of very soft to medium density clay in the new town area. The findings problematised the requirements for the bored piles since the piles were expected to stay in the soft clay without sinking too far or sliding about. They also had to endure hydrostatic pressure and buoyancy, currents, waves and swells. In response to this situation, TREVI Foundations Kuwait used specialist equipment from the Soilmec range to implement the piles safely into their surrounding environment.

A Hyundai-built barge also helped with piling. The barge rest on four spud legs, with four anchors securing it as it drove the piles in the ground. The contraption used 13 large water tanks each with a capacity of 55m3, to optimise stability under its deck. Hyundai anchored the barge in place during the work to make sure the piles were bored vertically at the correct depth of 72 metres.

The project has used approximately 1,200 piles in total. Some of these are as far as 17km out to sea. TREVI has been able to install three piles per week, but the company hopes to increase the rate of productivity now that the project is nearing its completion.

Another difficulty was the polymer mud, because it had to be monitored constantly. Quality checks occurred throughout the build to ensure that the slurry kept supporting the pile slides during excavation and casting stages. The slurry had very specific requirements: TREVI said that only clean water with pH values ranging from 10-11 worked for its formation. Mixing should be homogenous to avoid agglomerates of polymer powders forming, while the fresh slurry should also meet the necessary target for viscosity. The polymer slurry had to be recirculated without the use of centrifugal pumps and recovered from the pile using progressive cavity pumps, while a filtration tank was employed to minimise the sand content. The engineers maintained constant checks on the viscosity, density, pH value and sand content of the slurry to ensure it was of optimum quality. In addition, the strict rules on the handling and disposal of polymer slurries has been challenging: slurry is always subject to scrutiny under environmental regulations.

With much of the bridge completed, attention is turning towards the Silk City development. The Silk City site is under construction at a promising time. Kuwaiti investment in tourism has grown, and continues to grow in a positive trend. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), tourist arrivals are expected to increase from 270,000 in 2014 to 440,000 by 2024. This means that Silk City will reap the financial benefits of tourism, gaining revenue from tourism in retail, hospitality, food and beverage sectors.

The residential area of Madinat al-Hareer will house up to 500,000 residents preliminarily. This figure is expected to increase to 700,000.

A 5,000MW power plant, known as Az-Zour North, has been built in Subbiyah to assist power supplies to the city. Built in five stages, the plant was implemented to meet Kuwait’s plan to double its generation capacity by 2017, in a greater effort to meet a peak demand of 25GW anticipated by 2025. The power generated from the plant is equivalent to 10% of Kuwait’s installed power generation capacity.

Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) was awarded the engineering, purchasing and construction (EPC) contract for the power plant.

The CivicArts architecture firm have released blueprints which denote the size and scale of the new city’s builds. Madinat al-Hareer will feature a number of bridges, an expansive sports complex, convention centres, a duty-free mall and a record breaking skyscraper, built to reach over 1,000 metres in height. Overall, more than 1.5 million sqm of land has been claimed for the site.

In addition to catering for a host of much-needed viaducts, bridges, drainages, and intelligent transport services, the causeway has been greatly successful in terms of securing foreign involvement; companies from abroad have been directly involved in turning Kuwait into a regional transportation hub. This suggests that the Causeway Project is on a par with various other infrastructural improvements (such as port redevelopments, the construction of a new terminal at Kuwait International Airport, and major road renovations). Incorporating modern construction technologies and intelligent transport systems, SJSC’s work strongly denotes the government’s infrastructural ambitions to align Kuwait with the rest of the GCC, transforming the country into a post-oil “knowledge based economy.”

Madinat al-Hareer has received more than $132bn in governmental investments, and some projects are being privately backed as well. The city is expected to be completed in 2023. 

The causeway infrastructure has cost $3bn (KWD903.6m). SJSC expect it to be fully operational by 2019.