Roads and The Environment: The Yichang-Badong (Yiba) Expressway

June 18, 2014

My last project in China before transferring the Europe and Central Asia in 2008 was the Yichang-Badong (Yiba) expressway. This was a US$ 2.2 billion expressway through some very challenging terrain, including the ‘Three Gorges National Park’.  The following key statistics summarize why it was so special:

  • 172 km of expressways and 35.4 km of interconnecting roads
  • 148 bridges for a total length of 70 km
  • 75 tunnels for a total length of 61 km
  • 3.75 million m3 of earthworks
  • US$ 12.6 million/km

With challenging terrain, over 70% of the expressway consisting of tunnels and bridges (with the longest tunnel some 7.5 km long), the Hubei provincial government were concerned about the potential negative environmental impact of the project on such a sensitive area. These concerns were echoed by some at the Bank who I recall saying ‘why on earth would you want to put an expressway through a national park’ …


Read the rest of this entry »


Doing One’s Job: Engineering Ethics

June 11, 2014

At the beginning of June I was invited to help lead a tour to China by the World Bank’s ‘Environmental Community of Practice’ (COP) which would be visiting the Hubei Yiba Highway Project. This was a major 172 km long expressway which I prepared for the Bank in 2007/8. It traversed a very environmentally sensitive area and my team and I put great efforts in trying to minimize the negative environmental impacts.

I was grateful for the opportunity to revisit China and see the project as I considered it to be one of the highlights of my professional career. To be able to escort over 100 environmental and social specialists from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Australian Aid, Japan, Korea and China to the project was an added honour as it would give me the opportunity to share a number of the unique innovations on the project. I’ll do a separate write up later on the project and what I found…

It was wonderful to catch up with old colleagues, but I was particularly humbled by the generosity of the Hubei Provincial Communications Department who gave me (and later the team) a special award for our contributions. I felt it was very undeserved since all we had done was to give the Government the best advice and support we could to achieve their vision.



The award gave me pause to think about the meaning of doing one’s job. After all, if all one is doing is what one is asked to do, then why the award? This led to reflections on the ethical obligations we have as engineers towards our clients and society because all my team and I were doing was fulfilling our duty to help as best we could. So I’m going to be a bit reflective here and share some thoughts on the issue of ethics and the engineer. Not a best selling subject, but an important one to all engineers.
Read the rest of this entry »

Helping Rebuild Ha’apai

June 2, 2014

On May 28, 2014 the World Bank’s Board approved US$12 million in funding for the ‘Tonga Cyclone Ian Reconstruction and Climate Resilience Project’—or TCIRCRP. Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a transport specialist. So what is a transport specialist doing leading a project to rebuild a community of 5,500 devastated by a cyclone? Well, on one level it all started in October when I felt impressed to a course on disaster management and recovery. In the Pacific Islands we regularly have disasters and I wanted to expand my ippunderstanding. It was really interesting and I hoped that one day I would be able to learn more.

Who would have thought that less than three months later I’d find myself in a zodiac boat visiting outer islands in Ha’apai—and bailing like mad to make sure that the boat didn’t sink! That was the start to a journey which has tasked me professionally, physically and emotionally beyond any other in my career at the Bank. But one which will have the greatest on the ground impact for people—which is why God has brought me to the Bank in the first place.

Read the rest of this entry »