Highway crosses country, bridges nations

By ZHOU JIN | China Daily | Updated: 2023-10-03 09:35
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Trucks loaded with sand and rock work on the construction site of the highway. PHOTO/ CHINA DAILY

Cracking a hard nut

Ji Zongli, the chief engineer on the 84-km project, still remembers his excitement and sense of pride as he drove along the highway after it opened.

"It took nearly an hour for a round trip, and it was a steady and comfortable drive."

Building the highway was not easy. In addition to geological complications, it is the highest-level road project built since the country's independence in 1962. It was also the first overseas project in which Ji had participated.

Between 2006 and 2012, China CITIC Construction built a 528km stretch of the highway in the West sector, as one of the contractors in the project.

Mohamed Khaldi, director of the Algeria's National Highways Agency, hailed CITIC Construction for "its adherence to local laws and regulations and international norms during its previous construction of the highway," adding that the company had made use of "advanced technology to ensure high standards and the quality of the project," Xinhua reported.

In 2017, CITIC Construction was selected to take over construction of the 84-km project after it was abandoned by a Japanese enterprise over technical and financial difficulties.

"Our previous performance was recognized, and the Algerian government reached out to us to finish the contract because of our construction capabilities, as well as our credibility," Ji said.

He added that he felt uneasy after surveying the route, saying that the section ran through complex terrain prone to geological disasters, and that it faced enormous construction difficulties, a nightmare for geological engineers.

The East-West Highway passes through regions that include saline-alkali wetlands, alluvial plains, and rugged hilly areas, with lakes, rivers, and numerous ravines intersecting the route.

Geological conditions were also challenging. The highway runs across areas of marl (a mudlike sedimentary soil), which turns into mud and is prone to landslides on rainy days, as well as areas with soft mucky soil, and flood plains several kilometers across.

These conditions posed challenges to the construction of subgrades (the earthen layer underneath the road) and bridges, Ji said.

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