Two Western villages are amongst the first of hundreds to have river crossings fixed or rebuilt, as the Fiji Roads Authority looks to improve access for people in isolated areas, or those vulnerable to being isolated by flooding.
Work has begun on crossings at Masi and Togo Lavusa, two villages near Nadi. Fiji Roads Authority Capital Works Manager Ian Hunter says the projects should be completed before the rainy season, in November.
These are just two of around fifteen crossings throughout the country that are coming into the construction phase. The work is not just about repairing the crossings, but making sure they are stronger, less likely to fail and easier to maintain in future.
“There are hundreds of crossings just like these, all over Fiji, in need of repair or replacement,” says Mr Hunter. “The list is very long, and it is a matter of prioritising the crossings that have the greatest need, or that can be fixed relatively quickly and simply before they fail completely. Really, they are all a priority – giving Fijian people everywhere reliable access to the outside world is extremely important, for so many reasons.”
For villages that are cut off when crossings are washed away, the most pressing problems are access to work, education and health care.
“At some locations, we haven’t been able to get buses in for upwards of five years because a crossing was destroyed and cut off from safe vehicle access.”
FRA’s consulting engineers, MWH Global, says as pressing as the crossings are, they are proving to be some of the FRA engineering consultants most challenging work.
“The logisitics are enormous, which is why it is going to take some time to work our way through the list,” says Technical Delivery Manager Don Clifford. “Many are deep inland. Getting people and materials to the site is time-intensive and costly – some are several hours from a main road. But all the reasons we are finding these projects a challenge, are the reasons they are such a priority.”
It’s not just getting equipment and people on site that is making the crossing projects more time consuming than might be expected.
“Simple crossings are quick to put in, but they don’t last. It takes high tech expertise to make a reliable, permanent solution and a great deal of attention to detail. The reason many have failed isn’t that they weren’t strong enough, it was caused by failure of individual components.”
Mr Clifford says the very nature of crossings makes them a difficult proposition.
“The work is incredibly weather dependent, and because we are putting them across river beds that are difficult to de-water, building them becomes more complex. You’re right up against nature in the construction. Heavy rains bring incredibly big logs and huge debris loads down the rivers, interrupting construction. The design must take account of these loads, which put pressure on the completed structures and cause them to overflow.
The Masi and Togo Lavusa crossings were designed by MWH Fiji, and are being constructed by Fairdeal Earthmoving Contractors Ltd, who won the contract for both.
“Crossings in Fiji haven’t been worked on for a long time,” says Mr Hunter. “So finding a balance between up-skilling and supporting local resources, while drawing on the international expertise we need, has been key. MWH is building knowledge of local conditions and modifying existing proven technology to suit, creating cost and time savings as the programme continues. The programme is in its very early stages, however skills and knowledge are slowly but surely improving”.