The preferred bidder for the controversial Stonehenge Tunnel project has been selected by National Highways. The MORE joint venture partnership has been selected as preferred bidder for the £1.25 billion (€1.5 billion) contract. The project is for the tunnel and main construction work for the A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down scheme, which runs past the famous Stonehenge monument.
The MORE joint venture comprises Webuild with a 42.5% stake, as well as FCC Construcción, and BeMo Tunnelling. The joint venture partners were selected after a robust procurement process, a major part of which required the shortlisted bidders to develop their design solutions and demonstrate these as compliant with National Highways requirements.
The MORE JV has enlisted a leading group of design firms to operate as a joint venture, comprising Atkins, Jacobs and Sener.
The Main Works Contract covers the construction of the proposed tunnel’s civil, structural, mechanical, electrical and technology components. This includes the TBM, along with the approach roadworks and structures and the environmental components of the five-year construction phase. Once construction work is underway, it is expected to take five years to bore the tunnel, install the various systems and also build the new dual carriageway sections at either end to connect with the existing road.
Derek Parody, National Highways’ Project Director for the A303 Stonehenge scheme, said: “The contract will only become live once the Secretary of State has concluded the planning process.
“The announcement of a preferred bidder in no way pre-empts any decision, and once that is finalised, and should the Development Consent Order be granted, having a contractor in place will put us in the strongest possible position to deliver this transformational scheme and deliver the benefits we know it can.
“The scheme will not only unlock congestion along this vital A303 route, but also conserve and enhance the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site, and the joint venture will bring world class expertise to the construction of the tunnel and the roads.
“We are delighted to identify our contractors, they are internationally renowned and they will also be making best use of considerable UK skills by using a range of local, regional and national suppliers and contractors to help them deliver the scheme.”
In a statement, the joint venture said: “For the companies that are part the MORE JV – Webuild, FCC Construcción, and BeMo Tunnelling – this project is a clear example of the development of sustainable, innovative infrastructures that not only provide traffic solutions but also improve people’s quality of life.
“It is also an opportunity to demonstrate the experience and international technical capacity of the companies of the MORE joint venture.”
The proposed upgrade of the A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down includes 13km of free-flowing, high-quality dual carriageway and a tunnel at least 3.3km long underneath the World Heritage Site. This will follow the existing A303 route, but will be a further 50m away from the Stonehenge monument, avoiding important archaeological sites, and avoiding intrusion on the view of the setting sun from the stones during the winter solstice. There will also be a new bypass to the north of the village of Winterbourne Stoke and new junctions with the A345 and A360 either side of the World Heritage Site.
The project is not without its detractors however, as environmental and historical groups have criticised the plans. There have been suggestions that the proposed tunnel route will be unsightly and also that it threatens potential finds of historical importance. There could well be further legal bids to halt the work or amend the plans on environmental and archaeological grounds.
Plans to build a tunnel to replace the existing A303 route have been discussed for over 20 years. Previous plans to build a tunnel were shelved on grounds of cost, although this did nothing to alleviate the problems with the existing route. The current route suffers heavy congestion as it features just a single lane in either direction along this stretch and there are also concerns over its safety.
Given the importance of the area for archaeology, a tunnel is the only solution for the new road alignment. The only real issue to be merit further discussion is how long the tunnel should be. Unfortunately, building any tunnel in this area will be costly as the ground conditions are poor and the structure will require a great deal of concrete and steel to ensure its strength. The water table is also high, so the tunnel will need to be sealed properly and extensive water treatment will be required to prevent contamination from runoff.