Malaysia’s massive road building project is advancing the use of technology

Malaysia’s huge Pan Borneo Highway project is benefiting from the use of some of the latest technologies in its planning, design and construction
August 10, 2020 4 mins Read
Opening up access to Telok Melano and Tanjung Datu National Park
Opening up access to Telok Melano and Tanjung Datu National Park

Located on the island of Borneo, a massive new highway project has its roots in a plan by the Malaysian Government to boost the economic strength of East Malaysia. Initially unveiled in 2014, the plan was to upgrade the existing two-lane trunk road across Malaysia’s largest state, Sarawak.

The new route is named the Pan Borneo Highway and despite its scale, the route will be toll-free for drivers. The highway stretches 1,060km in all, through rainforest terrain and protected reserves between Telok Melano and Merapok. Work for phase one of the US$3.71 billion (MYR 16.15 billion) government-funded project has been for the construction of a 786km stretch of road, which will feature two lanes in either direction once the work is finished.

The Pan Borneo Highway project has been used as a benchmark in Malaysia for the implementation of  BIM technology (image © courtesy of Lebuhraya Borneo Utara Sdn Bhd)
The Pan Borneo Highway project has been used as a benchmark in Malaysia for the implementation of BIM technology (image © courtesy of Lebuhraya Borneo Utara Sdn Bhd)

Construction began in 2015 and when fully complete, the Pan Borneo Highway will deliver a vital route for the state, providing better transport for goods within the region. The highway will play a key role in developing the area economically, along with local business. Improving the highway will provide better access to the area, with its rainforest and protected parkland, also offering opportunities for the development of eco-tourism in Malaysia.

The original schedule called for the improvement works to be completed in 2021, although this may now be delayed due to the global Coronavirus pandemic causing the temporary halt in construction activity. But when the highway is ready for use its new four-lane dual carriageway will be the key transport link for the area.

To deliver the Pan Borneo Highway, the Malaysian Government has taken a bold step in terms of technology. The partners involved in delivering the project are using some of the latest building information modelling (BIM) systems. These are being used not only for planning, design and construction, but will also be used in the future for the operation and maintenance aspects.

This is the first road and highway project in Malaysia to utilise BIM, which has been integrated with a geographical information system (GIS). This has been combined to produce highway information modelling (HIM) for the entire 786km of phase one, perhaps the first time this approach has been used anywhere in the world for such a length of project.

Given the environmental sensitivity of much of the route, great care has been taken by the designers and builders to minimise the impact of the work. The design process has also been optimised by the use of sophisticated software tools from Bentley Systems.

Given the massive scale of the design work involved, a connected data environment (CDE) has been used to manage the design and construction data being generated on the project. The design firm involved in the project, Lebuhraya Borneo Utara (LBU), selected Reveron Consulting, a Bentley Channel Partner, to help utilise technology from Bentley for design, construction, and operations.

The use of the latest BIM and advanced digital technology for the largest infrastructure project in Sarawak is ambitious. The Pan Borneo Highway is pioneering the use of this highly sophisticated digital methodology and is setting a benchmark for Malaysia, capitalising on the use of technology for efficient project delivery and asset performance.

The selection of the technology package was an important decision early on in the project. “We had to look at a sustainable solution 30 to 40 years down the line to ensure a reliable backbone for transportation infrastructure within the state, for the people, and needed a system that best fit within our digital architecture. AssetWise did [that],” said Ravi Koka, chief executive officer, Reveron Consulting.

Kuching is the capital city in Malaysia’s Sarawak area and will benefit from improved transport (image © courtesy of Imran Ahmed, Dreamstime.com)
Kuching is the capital city in Malaysia’s Sarawak area and will benefit from improved transport (image © courtesy of Imran Ahmed, Dreamstime.com)

LBU and Reveron have made use of the ProjectWise package from Bentley to manage 3D design information and detect any clashes early in the design phase. This helped to reduce the need for reworking, as well as simplifying the construction management process. “We integrated ProjectWise and AssetWise seamlessly so that the asset management system can leverage on every detail that has been captured [in the connected data environment] during design and construction,” said Koka.

Meanwhile, the AssetWise package was used to link the data being generated with asset tags. This allowed the team to track and manage the changes being made as the project developed.

When building work was finished for the 32km stretch between Telok Melano and Sematan in early 2019, LBU began integrating the construction data from ProjectWise into Bentley’s AssetWise. This allowed the collated information to be stored for use in future maintenance operations. Because of the CDE, valuable data from construction is retained and can be used directly in future maintenance or upgrade work, it will provide major savings with regard to lifetime operating costs. “The key to efficient management and operating [of] this highway is the insight I have to what’s happening on the ground,” said Koka.

Integrating the design and construction data and also tagging assets to meet the Malaysian Government’s highway asset system, MYSKATA, the CDE provides a valuable store for accurate information on the project. Using the AssetWise package ensures that the assets management process for the Pan Borneo Highway is made simpler and also more efficient.

Bentley Systems says that AssetWise combines a road information system, a bridge management system, and a maintenance management system. The package also includes tools for work scheduling and an interim payment certificate for managing work orders, as well as web-based GIS, mobile-based field data collection for asset assessment, a pavement management system, and real-time reporting.

This sophisticated technology will yield other benefits beyond the new highway. This integration of construction will be used on a wider scale in the region also, with LBU implementing its expertise from the ConextCapture process utilised for the Pan Borneo Highway for other highway sections built in the last 10-15 years.

LBU has collated extensive data for 1,060km of the route using unmanned aerial vehicles and drones to meet the requirements of the Malaysian Government. Using AssetWise has allowed LBU to integrate information from multiple data sources, providing a common system for access. This has helped to meet the regulatory requirements for asset management, improving information flow as it is generated, and ensuring it is properly collated for storage and later analysis or use. Overall, this will deliver further cost and efficiency benefits for road maintenance and management.

Using unmanned aerial vehicles and drones has allowed extensive data to be collated in real time (image © courtesy of Lebuhraya Borneo Utara Sdn Bhd)
Using unmanned aerial vehicles and drones has allowed extensive data to be collated in real time (image © courtesy of Lebuhraya Borneo Utara Sdn Bhd)

For the future, it will allow strategic decisions and policies to be made that will deliver efficient operation for more effective management of the Pan Borneo Highway network, which is expected to optimise best practices.

According to LBU, utilising this asset performance and management software is allowing the firm to reduce risks, increase operational efficiency, and ensure regulatory compliance in the highway’s asset management.

Sauani Abdul Hamid, chief executive officer with LBU, said, “AssetWise helps to optimise operations and maintenance through more informed decisions based on the data in its CDE.”

LBU points out that the Pan Borneo Highway is not just another infrastructure initiative. Instead, this is a further advance in the use of technology that is boosting digitalisation in the road construction sector. To this end, LBU is training local engineers and designers to use BIM and digital technology for future infrastructure works. The firm says it is playing a key role in driving economic opportunities in East Malaysia using digital technology. According to LBU, it is benefiting from the use of Bentley’s asset performance and management technology within a connected data environment, to deliver a successful project.

“Using BIM across the asset life cycle of the Pan Borneo Highway readies this transportation backbone for more digital applications to be used, such as Internet of Things (IoT) and big data, to better manage future traffic flows, and contribute to a balanced economic development for Sarawak,” claimed Nor Zalida Ahmad, head of communications at LBU.

The use of the technology offers considerable potential and LBU points out that a digital twin can be used to determine traffic patterns and analyse where people are moving. As the benchmark for government road projects in Malaysia, LBU says that the Pan Borneo Highway is setting the stage for future highway operations, maintenance, and asset management.


Construction

Local contractor HSL is carrying out work on the WPC 7 stretch of the highway, which the firm claims is one of the most challenging. Work on this 76km section includes building 18 bridges, one of which will span the Batang Rajang, Malaysia’s longest river.

Work for the section also includes building two new interchanges. HSL is building one flyover near Julau and another flyover that will handle traffic between Sibu Airport, the town centre and towards Bintulu. The interchange connecting the airport, the town centre and Bintulu is the more complex of the two and is having to be constructed in four phases, with the firm having to divert traffic away from the working site. Other minor structures that HSL will build include seven pedestrian bridges, a rest area and 79 bus shelters.

Improving the Pan Borneo Highway will provide a key economic boost to the Sarawak area ( image © courtesy of Zulazhar Sheblee, Dreamstime.com)
Improving the Pan Borneo Highway will provide a key economic boost to the Sarawak area ( image © courtesy of Zulazhar Sheblee, Dreamstime.com)

Building the new Durin Bridge link is a key part of the work. Spanning the Batang Rayang River, the new bridge is being built alongside the existing structure, which was opened to traffic in 2006. The original bridge features two lanes but with the anticipated increase in traffic, the new structure will feature two more lanes. This will double capacity while also giving a significant boost to safety as the traffic will no longer be travelling in opposing directions on the same bridge.

Because the work is being carried out next to live traffic, HSL has safety personnel onsite to help minimise risk and ensure vehicles continues to cross the existing bridge without interruption.

The supports for the new structure are being built now and like the first bridge, it will measure around 1.9km in length when complete.

The construction method is novel for Malaysia, although it has been proven elsewhere in the world.

Senior project manager Philip Lau said, “For this bridge, we are using a method called ‘incremental launching’. There are a total of 16 pile caps that provide the new road section with its stability, drilled right into the banks of the Rajang River. The concrete mat layers are then filled up using special ‘hammerhead’ building casts, creating the structural columns for the new bridge portion.

“Once it’s set, we push it outwards to meet the four piers in the river.”

HSL is carrying out a substantial earthmoving operation and will have to cut some 4.04 million m3 of material in all from the alignment. At the same time, the firm is moving some 4.8 million m3 to the alignment as fill. And for the road construction work, the company is using around 2.2 million tonnes of aggregates.

Much of the earthmoving work is fairly straightforward. “For the Julau section, the cut-and-fill sections are on hills that are soft enough for us to create turf in order to prevent slope failure,” assistant project manager James Wong said.

Sarawak’s upgraded Pan Borneo Highway will help the development of this part of Malaysia (image © courtesy of Hon Chung Ham, Dreamstime.com)
Sarawak’s upgraded Pan Borneo Highway will help the development of this part of Malaysia (image © courtesy of Hon Chung Ham, Dreamstime.com)

However, there are portions that present more challenges. “In the Sibu to Bintulu section, certain portions are hard and rocky.” Wong explained that to provide the necessary slope stability for the hard and rocky stretches, it is laying a steel mesh grid on the surface and spraying shotcrete over the top. Material supply is important for the work and a subsidiary of HSL has also set up a new mix plant to provide material for the construction operation. This new plant is now operating alongside the subsidiary’s existing drum-mix plant, located near Sibu.

Environmental impact mitigation measures are being taken throughout the Pan Borneo Highway project by HSL as well as other contractors.

“We have environmental officers at each of the three sections of this package,” said Lau. “There is a lot of compliance to be met. For instance, where there is construction near rivers, silt fences are required. They prevent earth runoff into the river.”

During construction, traffic remains heavy on the existing trunk road, which is the only land route covnnecting all of Sarawak’s rural settlements to towns and cities. Because of this, traffic has to continue uninterrupted along all sections. For the stretch of the highway HSL is working on, only about 10% are completely new roads, as the rest involves upgrading the existing route and building new lanes to widen the road. To ensure safety for drivers as well as construction personnel, HSL has a team of almost 50 traffic safety officers located along its 76km stretch, including the bridge. The officers wear high visibility vests and use batons and signs to alert drivers to particular risks or diversions.


A highly professional team has been carrying out the design and planning work for the project (image © courtesy of Lebuhraya Borneo Utara Sdn Bhd)
A highly professional team has been carrying out the design and planning work for the project (image © courtesy of Lebuhraya Borneo Utara Sdn Bhd)

Safety systems

Important safety system contracts have now been awarded for the Pan Borneo Highway project, which is being designed and built to international standards. Prestar Resources has won a contract to provide guardrail as well as other safety equipment for the highway in a deal worth $19.3 million.

The component package should be delivered by the end of 2021 by Prestar Engineering, a subsidiary of Prestar Resources.

The guardrails will be supplied for stretches from Sungai Kua Bridge to Sungai Arip Bridge, Pantu Junction to Batang Skrang stretch, Sungai Awik Bridge to Bintagor and Semantan to Sungai Moyan Bridge.