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Angles is our online thought leadership platform offering in-depth analysis from those who are helping to transform the world in which we live, both today and tomorrow, and providing insight on everything from master planning a city to building a more sustainable future.

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Kevin Longenbach
22 Jun 2017

Recent years have seen a shift from public to private funded tolling projects—helping to fill both federal and state funding gaps. Increased levels of responsibility and risk are placed on private firms to design, build, operate, and maintain these projects. This shift begs the question: are Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) in the public interest? And if so, just what are the benefits of using P3s for tolling projects?

Most proposed P3 tolling and managed lane projects invariably inspire a sense of public anxiety and distrust—why should we force users to pay for a public service? Isn’t it unfair and inequitable to do so? Beyond the reluctance to pay a toll, there’s the question of how to financially structure a project—should it be completed on the public’s dime with public resources, or should private firms be allowed to take the lead (and the risk)?

Properly structured, P3s can be an attractive procurement option—shifting both the risk and the management to a more experienced partner. They can provide both short-term and long-term benefits to the public by providing funding to accelerate the delivery of service improvements, allowing for on-time completion, first cost savings, and also budget certainty on both capital and long-term maintenance costs. When performance standards aren’t consistently met, the facility owner can enforce contract default provisions and require new management. Although rarely invoked, this and other concession agreement provisions create a win-win scenario for the public providing protection in cases of mismanagement.

Understandably, the public can have hesitations about private entities managing public resources. There is worry about being overcharged and under-delivered, or deprived of access to public resources. Tolling reflects a balancing of supply and demand factors. If rates are set too high, travelers won’t pay. If rates are set too low, or aren’t adjusted in response to increased traffic congestion (e.g., in a managed lane), the promised benefit isn’t delivered, thereby diminishing (if not eliminating) the rationale for choosing a managed lane facility in the first place. These economic facts clearly influence toll pricing levels and ultimately limit what a private entity may charge above and beyond any statutory or contractual restraints.

So without further ado, here are the top 10 benefits that P3s contribute to tolling projects and their communities:

Top 10 benefits of P3s

  1. P3s provide the ability to leverage private investment capital to enable major roadway projects.
  2. P3s shift costs and key risks to the private sector and away from taxpayers.
  3. P3s typically deliver broad and complex projects on time and on budget.
  4. The use of private financing can accelerate delivery of major transportation improvements to provide congestion relief and needed infrastructure renewal.
  5. P3s offer and allow for greater innovation in the design and construction process by accessing private-sector ideas, skills, and talent.
  6. P3s can shift both current and long-term operations, and maintenance responsibilities—avoiding the use of tax dollars for this purpose.
  7. P3s can hold private firms to roadway performance and long-term maintenance standards under properly structured concession agreements.
  8. In the absence of available state or federal funding, P3s can create jobs and boost the economy now.
  9. The public retains the benefit of the P3 project even if the concessionaire defaults.
  10. P3s have a proven global reputation for managing mega projects efficiently and effectively—this is significant, as the need and demand for major highway and public infrastructure projects are expanding in the U.S.

Often Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) get a bad rap—particularly, when it comes to tolling projects; the public questions the need for tolling, and expresses concern about the motives and interests of a private entity when it comes to serving the public good. However, when properly structured, a P3 can deliver good value to each side of the transaction, be consistent with broad-based public transportation plans and policies, and ensure the fair protection of the public’s interest.

It is important to note that P3s are not the panacea for all transportation problems. The P3 model is an effective, value-for-money procurement method but only for the right projects. Tolling and P3s are not a means of delivering non-feasible projects. When the proper factors are found to exist, allowing private companies to take the lead (and the risk) through P3s can provide solid financial savings and benefits to the public by delivering well designed, constructed, maintained, and operated, state-of-the-art highway and transit related facilities.

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North America,

Catherine Li
21 Jun 2017

OBOR is arguably one of the biggest stories in today’s Asia business sector, covering 60 countries and accounting for about 65 per cent of the world’s population, one-third of the world’s GDP, and about a quarter of all the goods and services the world moves. OBOR has the potential to be the world’s largest platform for regional collaboration. The infrastructure projects will stimulate economic growth and build legacy for countries along the way.

The visit was led by Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC). Atkins joined the mission as a key player in Hong Kong’s infrastructure sector and a strategic partner for HKTDC’s OBOR activities. I had the pleasure to join the other forty some leaders that are involved in the OBOR and infrastructure development with a diverse sector representation which made the trip particularly rewarding.

Thailand: A key OBOR development and public and private sector collaboration

Our first stop of the trip was Thailand. We had the opportunity to meet with various senior Thai government officials including the Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, as well as many leading Thai companies. On the business level, the highlight was the discussions on how Hong-Kong-based companies can help the development of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC). Thailand hopes to develop its eastern provinces into a leading ASEAN economic zone. Branded as one of the three key OBOR corridor developments (the other two being China-Myanmar corridor, and China-Pakistan Corridor), the EEC straddles three eastern provinces of Thailand – Chonburi, Rayong, and Chachoengsao – off the coast of the Gulf of Thailand and spans a total of 13,285 square kilometers. The government hopes to complete the EEC by 2021, turning these provinces into a hub for technological manufacturing and services with strong connectivity to its ASEAN neighbors by land, sea and air.

The government has identified four “core areas” essential in making the EEC a renowned economic zone: (1) increased and improved infrastructure; (2) business, industrial clusters, and innovation hubs; (3) tourism and; (4) the creation of new cities through smart urban planning. The government predicts the creation of 100,000 jobs a year in the manufacturing and service industry by 2020 through the EEC. 15 major investment projects for the EEC have been identified in line with the “core areas”.

The government expects US$43 billion (Thai Baht 1.5 trillion) for the realisation of the EEC over the next five years. This funding will come from a mix of state funds, public-private partnerships (PPPs), and foreign direct investment (FDI). As explained in a recent article “One Belt One Road: seven factors to attract private sector investment” by Chris Birdsong, Atkins’ CEO for Asia Pacific, the key for development projects of this scale to succeed is for the public and private sectors to work together closely to increase projects’ bankability, therefore attractiveness to private sectors to invest. The public sector has a major role to play, in facilitating and attracting private sector investors to realise the full potential of aspirational development like this.

It’s encouraging to see that with the Eastern Economic Corridor Bill, which was approved in principle in mid-April 2017, more than 100 Thai laws and regulations within the EEC which restrict foreign investment and generally curb the ease of doing business will be amended or suspended, in support of the government’s strategy to secure much of the funding for the EEC through PPPs and FDI. Offering and facilitating attractive incentives from the public sector to unleash the full potential from the private sector is key. I am excited that Atkins has started discussions/bidding to work on some of the key developments in the EEC.

Vietnam: Development vs Destination

The second stop of my trip was Vietnam. We met with Prime Minster Nguyen Xuan Phuc and many senior government officials including Nguyen Chi Dung, Minister of Planning and Investment and Nguyen Hong Truong, Deputy Minister of Transport, as well as major property developers. The property market there is rapidly emerging. In 2016, real estate in Vietnam saw a 12% increase in investment comparing with the year before. Driven by the young demographic, growing middle class and the boom of the tourism industry, especially high-end tourism, urban residential property and hotel development are in particular demand. Tourist destinations and major cities like Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) present some interesting opportunities. In my view, it is of paramount importance not to view property developments in isolation, as a holistic and comprehensive planning approach would be the solid foundation for any development success.

Atkins has successfully delivered a number of high-profile architecture and masterplanning projects in the property market in Vietnam. Our multi-award-winning Landmark 81, at 460m tall when completed, is a testament to that. We believe that a comprehensive understanding of urban development to create a destination which offers future users or tenants an impeccable experience is something that no planner or architect should overlook. After all, what’s the use of a beautiful development that is impossible to get to? Or what is the use of a fast transport system when there is no destination to go to? And I am proud to say this is an important value that Atkins can add to our clients. We have started following up with some of the major players, and are working hard to create unique value propositions.

Capitalising on Hong Kong’s expertise and unique position

Comprehensive and effective project preparation is the first step towards success for any major infrastructure development. In an address from the Chief Executive from HKSAR, Hong Kong is ideally positioned to be the “super-connector” between the Mainland and the rest of the world. As China’s major international financial centre, and one of the world’s financial capitals, Hong Kong has the experience, the expertise and the connections to play a role as a major fundraising hub. Hong Kong hosts headquarters of many top international firms. The rich resource of top professionals in a wide range of services, such as accounting, law, construction, engineering and business management, also makes Hong Kong a go-to destination to seek professional advice for project preparation to close the funding gap. The HKTDC-led trip was a great example of the breadth and depth of expertise that Hong Kong has to offer to support major infrastructure developments in Asia, and Atkins is proud to be part of that!

No room for short sight  

Of course, a key aspect for the success of any development project, regardless infrastructure or property development, is to look into the future. Sustainable decisions must meet the need of today and the aspiration of tomorrow, taking into consideration rapidly changing technology. Although politics play a key role in facilitating major development projects, the decisions must be made beyond short-term political agendas and goals to solve an immediate problem; taking a holistic view of the country’s economic, demographic, cultural, social, environmental objectives and focusing on addressing the public’s needs of today and tomorrow is the key to ensure its longevity. In our industry, there is no room for short sight.

Catherine Li, Atkins’ director for strategy and business development for Asia Pacific, is a board director of the China Britain Business Council (CBBC), and Vice-Chair of the International Infrastructure Forum (IIF) at the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. 


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Asia Pacific,

Peter Blackley
12 Jun 2017

There has since been an unprecedented interest in this emerging market with the establishment of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and a steady stream of government funding to support R&D. Today, there are over 30 projects co-funded by UK government, undertaking feasibility studies, trials and testing of CAVs.

This pattern is repeated across the globe with countries such as the USA, Dubai, Singapore and China, investing heavily in this market.

For many people, there is often an assumption that when driverless cars are on the network all vehicles will be fully autonomous. This is known as Level 5 (SAE). However, for those working in the industry there is still a level of uncertainty around reaching Level 5 and how to address some of the key issues surrounding Levels 3 and 4 of autonomy. At these levels, transfer of control between the vehicle and the human driver (known as the handover process) would be required as the vehicle will not be fully autonomous.

Understanding the handover process is important from a safety, traffic management, technology, and legal and insurance perspective. For example, the length of time it takes someone to regain full control of the vehicle, represents a meaningful risk to insurers. Importantly, understanding when control is transferred between the vehicle and driver has liability implications.

To date, research on handover has focused on more experienced drivers, at high speeds and involving single handover requests. This is not necessarily typical of the day to day driving experience in urban areas. Therefore, VENTURER decided to undertake its first set of experiments with a focus on:

  • Drivers with varying levels of experience;
  • Lower speeds (20, 30, 40 and 50 mph) typical of an urban environment; 
  • Driving simulator and road experiments; and 
  • Shorter driving periods with multiple handover requests.

This first trial sought to gain a deeper understanding of:

  • How long it took participants to engage with the driving controls (steering wheel, brake, and accelerator) after a handover request;
  • Whether typical manual driving performance is achieved after handover;
  • At what time during the handover period is typical manual driving performance achieved; and
  • For how long does the driver maintain typical manual driving performance during the handover period?

The findings indicate that without a structured process there could be safety implications associated with transferring control from the autonomous system to manual driving at the speeds tested (20, 30, 40 and 50mph). Depending on the speed of the vehicle, it could have travelled a considerable distance before the driver has regained typical driving performance and full control of the vehicle. Although, the trial focused on planned handover, if these findings were translated into a situation where emergency handover is required, there could be further safety implications. This needs further exploration, and must consider factors such as how long the driver has been inactive, vehicle speed and road conditions.

There are also potential implications for highway network performance. VENTURER Trial 1 results revealed that the vehicle slowed during and after the handover process. This could result in a bunching effect on the network if handover is required at specific locations and vehicles (either manually driven or in autonomous mode) slow down to respond to this event. This could create a shockwave effect across the network, contributing to delays and congestion.

To mitigate these issues, a structured handover process must be developed. Should it be considered by industry and regulators that autonomous systems which require human input (such as handover) are not desirable, the focus would very much be on developing fully autonomous vehicles (Level 5).

Whilst driverless cars have the potential to realise safety benefits and improve mobility for all, there are possible implications that must be considered. Amongst these, is the potential for increased consumer demand which could have a knock-on effect on highway network capacity. This may present a challenge in urban areas where the highway network may already be at or approaching capacity. There may also be adverse consequences for wider policy areas, such as the promotion of active travel initiatives that support general health and well-being.

VENTURER continues to inform the future direction of CAV development by creating a greater understanding of the potential opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. For further information on the project and to read the full report, click here


[1] Automated Driving, Levels of Driving Automation are defined in new SAE International Standard J3016, http://www.sae.org/misc/pdfs/automated_driving.pdf

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UK & Europe,

Benedikt Goebel
07 Jun 2017

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) is no stranger to large airport improvements. Construction began recently on replacement of its 54-year-old terminal with a new, nearly $950 million terminal development program, with the Atkins/LeoADaly Joint Venture as design lead. To support the program, the airport will also construct a new terminal apron, roadways, elevated structures, new on-site parking facilities, pumping stations, extensive drainage system improvements, and airfield lighting systems. This is a massive undertaking that is among the most significant construction projects in the city since the construction of the Superdome in 1975.

But behind the headline-grabbing projects lies important work that travelers rarely notice. In addition to being a key member of the design team for the new terminal and the extensive relocation of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) systems, Atkins airfield electrical team performed a top-to-bottom redesign of MSY’s airfield electrical system—work that has significantly decreased energy demand and improved reliability and safety.

As you can imagine, the consequences of failing to maintain and upgrade airfield electrical systems can be catastrophic. Safe and efficient movement of aircraft is a key element to ensuring air traffic demands and time schedules are met. This is particularly important at airports serving a popular tourist destination like New Orleans.

As an element of the Airfield Electrical Rehabilitation Program, we performed forensic evaluation of the existing airfield lighting systems which was exhibiting performance issues. The analysis resulted in a prioritized program for airfield electrical and lighting system improvements and an extensive list of improvement options and budgeting.

This effort ultimately gave way to a $12 million construction program for the reconstruction of electrical systems and control system upgrades. The key to the success of this program was a close partnership between Atkins, airport engineering and management staff, the airlines, and the FAA. After the comprehensive technical analysis and safety/construction phasing, the scope was clearly defined among the stakeholders and expectations surrounding implementation were set. We then developed preliminary and final design as well as construction documentation on a highly compressed, 11-week design schedule and a 12-month construction schedule.

The wholesale reconstruction of the system provided for new infrastructure and modernized system architecture designed around LED technology, which helped reduce energy demand by as much as 50 percent. A critical design stipulation for the project was that airfield operations must be maintained throughout the construction schedule, significantly complicating the construction sequencing. Extensive effort and coordination between the stake holders was developed to maintain FAA-mandated safety clearances and airfield access restrictions. We are proud to report that the project resulted in zero flight diversions due to the implementation of Airfield Electrical Rehabilitation Program.

Another unique challenge we encountered was that this system need to be built below sea level, which presents its own construction challenges—namely an extraordinary amount of ground water, rain and concerns over subsidence.

Our multidisciplinary design team consisting electrical, civil and drainage engineers had to rethink how to create a reliable system in an environment that was fundamentally hostile to electrical systems. Our solution was to rebuild the entire system from scratch—considering new technologies, updated FAA requirements, dewatering and system architecture that was forward-looking and accommodated the development of the new terminal without major reconfiguration.

The team used proven, but innovative installation techniques to accommodate the challenging conditions. Normally airports install electrical raceway systems with open-cut trenches; however, due to the saturated soils and unstable site conditions involved, it was more cost-effective and time efficient to use directional boring techniques. Since directional boring is not typically used to the extent we required, the team developed new designs, prepared a comparative analysis of alternate materials / methods and ultimately received a special approval from the FAA.. The technique worked spectacularly well, allowing us to quickly install over 800,000 feet of new cable, 2,000 light fixtures, 130 lighted guidance signs, almost 75 manhole structures, and 220,000 feet of conduit and directional bored ducts in one year’s time, minimizing the need for site restoration, and reduced FOD and pavement cleaning, while maintaining full airport operations.

Reliability and efficiency improvements to the airfield electrical system were important steps for MSY to move forward with construction of its new terminal. By close collaboration with stake holders, rethinking and innovating standards designing and looking to the future of the new system, we helped the client accommodate for future growth, dramatically improved reliability and safety, and enabled travelers to fully enjoy the airport’s new facilities without disruption.

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North America,

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