News: Nawa to Lashkar Gah road complete, hopes for increased freedom of movement, economic development
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — A new, safe and modern road that halves the travel time between the rural town of Nawa and Lashkar Gah, the Helmand province capital, opened to the public in May.
The project is the first completed under the Afghanistan Infrastructure Program, a joint U.S. Defense Department and State Department initiative to execute critical, large-scale infrastructure projects in Afghanistan that support economic development and build Afghan’s confidence in their government.
The Afghanistan Engineer District-South, part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, oversaw construction of the 14.3 mile, two-lane, asphalt-surfaced road. The project cost about $18 million and took 22 months to build.
“The road from Nawa to Lashkar Gah is a critical local artery for trade and commerce,” said Robert van der Borg, who deployed to Afghanistan from the USACE Portland District and served as the project manager for construction of the new road. “This road will enable safer travel and transport, thereby promoting economic growth, agricultural development, and better access to markets.”
Van der Borg, a graduate of the University of Portland who also holds a Project Management Professional certification, said the importance of the new road was obvious, citing that “as soon as the first grater blade leveled the new road’s path, we couldn’t keep people off it.”
“Roads have the power to transform communities,” said Tony Smith, a registered professional engineer with the district who served as the project engineer. Smith deployed to Afghanistan from the USACE Jacksonville District. A graduate of the University Of Florida College Of Engineering, Smith has designed and built roads in both urban and rural parts of Florida and Puerto Rico since the late 1990s.
Another benefit of roads, besides facilitating the exchange of goods, is the exchanging of ideas between communities to promote future growth since regions that were previously remote are now accessible, Smith said.
Smith became a civil engineer because he was great at math and wanted to help people, he said. “It’s a gratifying experience, personally, to complete a project that will not only cut commute time between the two cities in half, but will greatly improve the safety of motorists too.”
Before the new road, a dangerous, shoddy, and in some places, nearly impassable route existed.
“It was really not suitable for vehicles,” said Smith.
Building the new road was no walk in the park for both technical and security reasons, he added.
The road passes through heavily-irrigated terrain and had to be constructed with minimum disruption to irrigation activities since farmers depend on water for their crops. All existing culverts, erosion-control structures, retaining walls, and causeways had to be replaced and new drainage structures were constructed.
Large culverts were required where the road passes over major irrigation canals. Special sabotage–prevention features like culvert access denial screens which obstruct the emplacement of roadside bombs within culverts were used. Road signs and pavement markings were also included.
In the United States 24-hour operations are possible, explained Smith. In Afghanistan, only a day crew can be employed, primarily due to security concerns and limited resources. As a result, the timeframe to complete a road in Afghanistan is a lot longer, he said.
Gaining buy-in from the local populace was essential. Smith and others met with the public, and members of the local government and district leaders, to explain the mechanics of road construction. The project enjoyed widespread support, explained van der Borg, and one of its most ardent champions is Abdul Manaf, the Nawa district governor.
“Most folks already understood how this road would benefit them, but we made sure to explain the process and rigor involved in constructing a high-quality road,” said Smith. “For instance, we explained how a batch of asphalt is made, how we work with an independent lab (certified by USACE) to make sure the mix is appropriate and how we use specific temperatures when laying down asphalt. We also explained how a road is actually a structure. When you think of a structure, you probably think of a building, but roads are structures too, and have many important components that make them strong and long lasting.”
The actual components or layers in the Nawa to Lashkar Gah road consist of a well-compacted subgrade, subbase, base, binder course, and asphalt wearing course. Multiple field density tests were performed on each layer during placement to make sure roadway would not experience stress or load-related deformations in the future. These layers work together to produce a robust structure which can withstand large-scale and frequent vehicular traffic. The new road was designed to carry up to 13,000 vehicles per day and support vehicles with a gross weight of up to 45 tons, explained Smith.
The road’s geometric and pavement designs are in compliance with the Afghan Ministry of Public Works and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Official (AASHTO) standards. Feedback from the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development was also implemented into the road design.
USACE is the largest public engineering agency in the world and holds the expertise and authority to oversee construction projects on behalf of the U.S. Army and coalition forces in Afghanistan.