Morocco’s new motorway links are boosting connectivity
First publishedin World Highways
Morocco’s massive motorway construction programme will improve transport connections and boost this North African country’s economy - Mike Woof reports
A massive road building programme is transforming Morocco, with new motorways connecting cities and major towns, as well as many new rural roads becasing built. The Moroccan Government has set an impressive plan for its infrastructure investment that will see even the country’s small and remote villages having proper connections to the main road network. The Programme National de Route (PNR) plan includes building highways and connecting rural roads, with the government having set a target to construct some 50km of motorways/year.
The new tolled motorways are already helping with the transportation of heavy goods between cities and also with the country’s immediate neighbours and through its ports, boosting trade overall. Morocco’s proximity to Europe meanwhile has made it a prime location for western companies to set up operations focussing on developing the North African market, further boosting its need for an effective transport network. The new A1 and A7 highways connect Tangiers in the north of the country with Agadir in the south, a distance of some 800km. These highways also link with Casablanca, as well as Morocco’s major tourist destination, Marrakesh.
The country’s motorway operator Autoroutes du Maroc (ADM) says that the company now has a network of 1,511km of motorways. This has cost US$5.2 billion to construct and the motorways now represent 3% of Moroccan roads, while carrying 20% of total traf¬ c volumes. The aim of the programme has been to boost connectivity and according to ADM, 60% of the population is now connected to a motorway, while 80% of industrial complexes and 76% of tourist zones are linked to the network. ADM's total investments should reach $6.6 billion once it completes the 1,800km set out in its contract with the Moroccan Government.
At the same time as building the new tolled motorways, the country is also constructing a high speed TGV rail system, as well as investing heavily in its entire rail network. The ¬ rst phase of Morocco’s high speed TGV connection from Tangier to Casablanca is under construction at present and due for completion in two years. The next phase of the TGV project will be to connect Casablanca with Agadir, which should be ready in six years time.
1. A layer of quarried stone provides a base layer for the road structure 2. The Cat 345 excavator is the main production tool for loading El Hallaoui's fleet of MAN tipper trucks 3. El Hallaoui's contract for Section 2 of the new bypass initially runs south-west from an existing roundabout 4. A four lane tunnel will run underneath a busy roundabout that suffers severe congestion at present
Part of Morocco’s network development includes a new 24km ring road running around the outskirts of the northern port city of Tangiers. A link in the chain, this new road connects the A1 highway running south around 300km to Casablanca via Rabat with the new port of Tangiers Med and the surrounding industrial zones. The family-owned Moroccan contractor El Hallaoui is building the link, a ¬ rm founded by managing director Khalid El Hallaoui and now run with the help of his six sons. The project is one of several around Tangiers that will help reduce congestion and improve traf¬ c ow as vehicle numbers have increased considerably in the city due to the rapid population growth, increasing from 670,000 in 2004 to an estimated 800,000 at present.
A 16km stretch of the ring road runs between the city’s recently revamped airport and the new free-trade industrial zone (called Section 2) which is being constructed by El Hallaoui. The company’s contract has been split into two, with El Hallaoui currently working on the shorter 6.4km stretch and due to commence the longer section shortly. Meanwhile another contractor will build the eastern stretch, Section 1, of the route.
The next section of the link road El Hallaoui will build measures just 4km long but the work will be complex as it crosses a rail line. This will connect with National Road 1 beside the airport, which is itself bene¬ ting from extension work to its runway to allow use by larger aircraft. Called the Road of Two Seas (La Route du deux Mers), the link connects the Mediterranean coast on the north of Tangiers with the Atlantic coast on its west.
This new route also allows better access to the city’s outlying residential areas, while it should help cut the city’s chronic congestion problem. The new road will carry transit traffic away from the city centre, allowing heavy vehicles from the new port, Tanger Med, or the workforce of the new Renault car factory, the free trade zone or the newly constructed industrial areas to bypass the city.
The 16km link road in itself is a comparatively small project at €75 million, but forms part of the much bigger, three-year plan to redevelop Tangiers and improve its infrastructure overall. The city is seeing rapid development with new tourism projects along the bay, a modern business district (Tangier City Centre), a new airport terminal as well as a runway extension and a new football stadium. New bus lanes, better street lighting and two new bridges are also planned for the city.
This work comes as a result of the Moroccan Government’s €676 million investment into an extensive urban development programme, which is designed to boost the economy and provide the necessary facilities for the city’s population growth. The new industrial zones are now home to a growing number of western companies and the city’s population is growing quickly as people move to the area from other parts of Morocco, attracted by the healthy job market. The city’s economy is also set to benefit from the new Tanger-Med port, just a short distance to the east of the city on the Mediterranean coast. The construction of this modern industrial port has meant that the existing Tanger-Ville port can focus on tourist vessels and the fishing fleet.
1. At present, the new bypass runs through an area that is comparatively undeveloped, which is helping speed construction 2. El Hallaoui's Cat graders are now being fitted with the AccuGrade machine control system to optimise efficiency 3. El Hallaoui has several Caterpillar wheeled loaders in its machine fleet 4. One of El Hallaoui's Cat dozers is playing a key role in the earthmoving works
For the earthmoving portion of the link road project, El Hallaoui’s machines are moving some 20,000m3/day. The core of the earthmoving fleet for the work comprises five excavators, five bulldozers, three graders, three soil compactors and three wheeled loaders. Caterpillar machines dominate the fleet with a 345 excavator, two 336s and two 324s; two D9 and 3 D8 dozers; one 14K grader, two 12K graders; one 966H loader, two 950H loaders. In all the firm’s fleet comprises 125 items of construction machinery with the Caterpillar units including five dozers, 28 excavators, 18 wheeled loaders, 14 graders, five backhoe loaders, 19 compactors and six ADTs, as well as two large gensets and 19 smaller generators. The Caterpillar machines were supplied by dealer Tractafric Equipment, which is based in Casablanca and has five depots across Morocco serving key markets. The contractor has also had dealer Tractafric rebuild a 330 excavator, a 950 wheeled loader, a D8 dozer and a number of graders when these units topped 15,000 hours.
El Hallaoui is using an extensive fleet of equipment on the job so as to ensure the work sticks to the tight schedule, with all 30 of its own MAN on/off-road tipper trucks in use for the 600,000m3 of earthmoving required, as well as a further 10 rented trucks. Oussama El Hallaoui is project chief and said, “We’ve had no particular difficulties yet but a major challenge could be the rain as there is up to 700mm of rain/year in the area and this could stop us from working.”
The road design has been specified by the client and calls for three layers before any asphalt is laid. A 10cm layer suppresses the clay with another layer on top and the last being a foundation layer of stone from the quarry with specific characteristics for granular size. Once the company has completed the earthmoving, it will start work on the asphalt surface using its Vögele pavers (there are also some older Marini units in the fleet although these are being gradually replaced) and Caterpillar compactors.
Meanwhile the asphalt is being supplied by the contractor’s two mobile Ermont plants, which have capacities of 15tonnes/hour and 250tonnes/hour. El Hallaoui said that while the grade of asphalt for this project is a standard specification, the company is investigating the use of low emission, warm asphalt types for use in other projects in the future. He said that the firm is also considering using recycled asphalt and that one of its Ermont plants could be fitted with a module for this application if required.
El Hallaoui currently operates five quarries of its own and produces 1.5 million tonnes/year of limestone. The company was awarded the rights to quarry at sites close to the project and is using Lokotrack and Powerscreen machines to produce material at these operations. The concrete plant is also supplying material for the new underpass, which El Hallaoui is building in the centre of the city. This work involves rebuilding a busy roundabout, a junction that already carries traffic volumes far in excess of its design capacity. With vehicle numbers set to grow further in the city, an extensive upgrade is planned. This calls for an underpass to be constructed underneath the existing roundabout that will allow drivers heading along the main routes to bypass the junction.
The job is complex and includes a number of challenges, not the least of which is its location 7m beneath a very busy roundabout with eight connecting roads. El Hallaoui said, “There’s water there, a lot of traffic and a lot of buildings around.”
The project calls for the removal of 80,000m3 of earth from underneath the roundabout, but without disturbing traffic in the meantime. The work will require an 800m long stretch of asphalt road surface with four lanes in all, as well as a concrete lining for the underpass with walls 500m long. This will be a nine-month project with work being carried out continuously and El Hallaoui added, “We’ll go down to sea level.”
The tools Reliablity and dependability have been two reasons for buying Caterpillar machines according to El Hallaoui and the firm has a long history of buying equipment from this manufacturer, with the first unit being a backhoe loader that it bought 30 years ago. El Hallaoui specialises in road building and the firm now has 70-80 items of equipment in its fleet, as well as having invested in new machine control technology. And El Hallaoui said, “Some of our 322Bs have up to 22,000 hours on the clock. We bought our first cat machine in 1998 and we’ve only sold two since.”
A new development for the company is the use of the Cat Product Link technology to track maintenance and service needs for the newer items of Cat equipment in the fleet. This should help ensure uptime is maximised and running costs lowered, although El Hallaoui said that it is as yet too early to identify the savings the technology will deliver. Another important move has been the introduction of the Caterpillar AccuGrade machine control system on the 14K grader and the 324 excavators. Again, it is as yet too early to identify the cost savings the technology can deliver but El Hallaoui said that the package is already helping boost working efficiency. “It’s good to use, more productive and more accurate first time and at less cost overall,” he added.
Should the package prove as successful as expected, El Hallaoui said that the AccuGrade system could then be installed on the firm’s larger excavators as well during 2015. “For the autoroute it is indispensable,” he said, explaining that while the Moroccan authorities do not require the use of machine control systems, the efficiency gains for the contractor are substantial.
El Hallaoui is based in Casablanca and now has a workforce of around 650, including 60 engineers, technicians and managers. The company is working on a series of projects right across Morocco, with much of the work being carried out for the Ministry of Transport.
The company is building some of the 15-20km road sections in the north of Morocco that will connect previously isolated areas to the main road network. A number of these jobs will be challenging however as they are in mountainous areas where access can be difficult for heavy equipment. El Hallaoui added, “We’re generally working in three or four regions at a time and one project/region, or sometimes more. There is a lot of work in Morocco but there’s also a lot more competition than before. To be competitive you need good quality equipment and to invest in technology.”
1. One Moroccan contractor, STAM, has an extensive fleet of Caterpillar scrapers with one of the machines undergoing a comprehensive rebuild in Tractafric's workshop 2. Morocco's motorways now connect most of the major towns and cities 3. The route of the bypass skirts around the southern side of Tangiers
Tractafric has a strong presence in Africa where it has been a Caterpillar dealer since 1932, although its first territory was Cameroon and the firm only took over responsibility for Morocco in 1992. The company has its base in Casablanca as well as facilities in Agadir, Marrakesh, Meknes and Tangiers, as well as the new facility at Laâyoune in the Western Sahara.
Tractafric does face competition from some other construction equipment brands in Morocco such as Hyundai, JCB, Komatsu and Liebherr, but the strength of the Caterpillar brand means it holds a strong position in the market. Chinese manufacturers have made a determined effort to enter the North Africa market, with large numbers of SANY concrete pumps and XCMG cranes highly visible on many construction sites for example, but with little presence as yet in earthmoving or road building machine segments.
Morocco used to provide a good market for secondhand machines from Europe. However this situation has now changed following the introduction of the increasingly tough emissions laws in Europe and North America. The low emission Tier 4 Interim/Stage IIIA and Tier 4 Final/Stage IV compliant diesels developed for North America and Europe require high quality, low sulphur fuel that is not available in Morocco. Major manufacturers such as Caterpillar have developed versions of its latest designs with engines that meet the Tier 2/Stage II and Tier 3/Stage III regulations for sale in developing markets where fuel quality is an issue.
To meet demand, Tractafric is able to repair and rebuild machines for customers in its workshop area, using approved Caterpillar parts. The company has a regular delivery of parts from Caterpillar to ensure that its spares supplies are kept up to date, while it is also a certified supplier of hydraulic hoses. The supplies include remanufactured parts for customers with older machines that they want to keep running.
Abdelhak Talbi is director of operations at Tractafric Equipment’s Moroccan headquarters in Casablanca and he said that the company is also able to supply quality secondhand equipment, in part through its Cat Rental business. He explained, “It’s why we do a ‘roll in, roll out’ policy with our rental fleet. We’re able to supply low hour, quality secondhand machines to local customers.”
The rental market in Morocco is growing steadily and becoming a more important component of Tractafric’s business. And Talbi estimates that around 40% of construction machine sales in Morocco are for secondhand equipment. Certain types of machines are in particular demand in the country and Talbi said, “In construction 20tonne class excavators are big sellers, as well as medium sized wheeled loaders and graders and bulldozers ranging from the D6-D8.”
He said that with Morocco’s strong construction growth, equipment sales are healthy. “We’ve seen an increase in orders for 2014,” he said, adding that Tractafric is expecting machine sales to grow around 15% for 2015 compared with 2014.
TRANSPORT OUTLOOK: The Moroccan Government is aiming for the country to have 50km of new motorway/year added to the network
MOROCCAN MOTORWAY PLAN: Autoroutes du Maroc (ADM) has a plan for the country’s motorway network to extend to 18,000km
NEW HIGHWAY LINKS: Morocco’s Programme National de Route (PNR) plan includes building highways and connecting rural roads
NEW ROAD EXPANSION: Motorways represent 3% of Moroccan roads and carry 20% of total traffic volumes
REDEVELOPING TANGIERS CITY AND PORT: Tangiers is benefiting from €676 million of investments to develop new transportation facilities and homes
TRANSPORTATION EXPANSION: Part of Morocco’s transport investment will see a new TGV high speed rail link from Tangiers to commercial Casablanca due for completion in two years. The link will then be extended to Agadir in six years’ time