The Baltimore Construction News

MARCH 2004


Much like Iraq, Afghanistan is a goldmine for construction companies
JEFF ROBERTS – Special to The Baltimore Construction News

In the name of U.S. foreign policy and democracybuilding, the U.S. government and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a D.C.-based independent organization specializing in economic, development, and humanitarian assistance throughout the world, have invested, and will continue to invest, millions of dollars in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. “Since fiscal year 2002, the U.S. government and USAID have invested about $1.8 billion in the redevelopment of Afghanistan,” says Harry Edwards, a press officer with USAID in Washington, D.C. Edwards adds, “Although the French, the Japanese, and the Saudis all have projects in Afghanistan, by and large, the U.S. government and USAID have the largest slice of the pie.” Because they act on behalf of U.S. foreign policy initiatives and according to appropriation legislation, USAID is obligated to use U.S. companies or U.S.contracted local subcontractors in their redevelopment efforts. Perhaps the most crucial of the redevelopment initia-

tives is the Highway 1 project, a 650-mile (1,048 kilometers) V-shaped transnational highway running from Kabul to Kandahar, and Kandahar to Herat. Once finished, it will serve as the developmental lifeline of Afghanistan, transporting people, food, health care supplies, and trade goods to previously impassable destinations. “Highway 1 is the spine of the road construction project,” says Luke Zahner, a press officer with USAID in Washington, D.C., “it has been expedited because it is critical to the mission in Afghanistan.” New Jersey-based Louis Berger Group, Inc. (LBG) is the primary contractor for the Highway 1 project and has also been tasked with construction of more than 220 government buildings and schools, and more than 30 bridges; all of which are located in areas adjacent to Hwy 1. Under the contract USAID/ Afghanistan assigns infrastructure projects to LBG for design, public contracting, and final acceptance. LBG tries to work closely with local NGOs, especially on non-road infrastructure. “We are the general con-

tractor for USAID, we are responsible for awarding a wide array of civil and vertical engineering subcontracts,” says Tom Nicastro, Vice President of The Louis Berger Group, Inc. and the chief overseer of redevelopment in Afghanistan. “When Requests for Proposal (RFPs) are issued, construction companies can register to submit a proposal for development,” Nicastro explains. “International pre-qualification for the first portion of Phase II [the 351-mile section from Kandahar to Herat] was completed on January 5, 2004. We have begun designing the road and pulling together final bid packages and we will be coming out with the names of companies that can bid on the Phase II of the road very soon,” he adds. Because Afghanistan is landlocked, the roads are the veins that carry the lifeblood of that nation’s redevelopment. Accordingly, USAID has earmarked funds for the future construction of more than 2,500 miles of roads throughout the Afghanistan. In addition to roads construction, rehabilitation of the Salang Tunnel is a crucial step in restoring normalcy and efficiency to

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daily life in Afghanistan. Created to bisect the enormous Hindu Kush mountain range, the Salang Tunnel directly links northern and southern Afghanistan. When functional, a trip from northern Afghanistan to Kabul might take 10 hours, as compared to 72 hours for the same trip when the tunnel is not functioning. To ensure continued operation for the 8,000 people and 1,000 cars that use the tunnel on a daily basis, USAID is providing $1.6 million for snow removal, emergency repairs, and traffic control management. “Ventilation systems have failed and people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning; some have frozen to death after the tunnel became obstructed while they were inside,” says Edwards. By 2005, USAID plans to rehabilitate or reconstruct more than 1,100 schools in Afghanistan. “This is a project that is absolutely necessary” says Edwards, “the current literacy rate in Afghanistan is 13 percent.” Moreover, USAID has committed funds to the completion of more than 6,000 water-related construction projects including the creation of wells, reservoirs, irrigation canals, and dams. According to Edwards, “Afghanistan used to have a very intricate system of channeling and redistributing water from the moun-

tains to irrigate the country’s crops. But 20 years of blowing things up, bombing, and mining has caused it [Afghanistan] to be a little less efficient than it used to be.” The vital water projects include Bethesda, Md.based, Development Alternatives International (DAI), which has been granted $6 million for irrigation rehabilitation, and Washington, D.C.-based Chemonics, which has been granted $2 million for agriculture rehabilitation. Among the non-profit humanitarian efforts are a $1 million grant from Mercy Corps, a Christian volunteer ministry program, which will focus on smallscale water sanitation, and the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a refugee resettlement and emergency relief advocacy group, which has a $616,000 contract to improve irrigation and water sanitation structures. Although most of the projects under USAID supervision have a 2 to 3year lifespan, according to Zahner, “The end of contract does not mean the end of the commitment. It means that the contract must be extended to include more projects or further obligations.” “The project end dates are not set in stone. They are target dates. The nature of USAID contracts allows them to be extended” he adds. Tom Nicastro, having

just returned from a USAID award ceremony in which LBG was presented with an award for completing the first phase of their contract two weeks ahead of schedule, adds, “Contract extension depends on client funding and client happiness. And so far, the client, [the US government] has been happy. We got a letter from President Bush saying how happy he is with the road.” However, Nicastro is quick to point out that the letter received was addressed to LBG in addition to all of the subcontractors, and the people and government of Afghanistan. It is clear that there is no shortage of work or funding in Afghanistan. One example is the Kabul-KandaharHerat highway and related projects, which were initially bid at $250 million. USAID has delivered $190 million of that sum, and the project has not yet reached its midpoint. “We envisage a longterm commitment to Afghanistan’s redevelopment,” says Zahner. USAID is optimistic about the continued role of U.S. construction companies in rebuilding Afghanistan. Edwards says, “we expect to be working [in Afghanistan] for some time to come,” while Zahner adds, “President Bush has made it quite clear that the redevelopment of Afghanistan will be a long-term project.”

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size of the redevelopment. In another jurisdiction, we were granted a waiver from groundwater recharge because the county agreed that it would be impractical there. We satisfied the review agency by demonstrating that the measures we were able to incorporate in our design improved the water quality management of the site substantially. While there are clearly numerous stormwater management options to consider for any redevelopment project, several have frequently been effective. The use of passive design features such as grass swales or other organic filters often can help meet water quality requirements inexpensively without using up a great deal of land. In addition, there are several ‘credits’

listed in Chapter 5 of the MDE manual that may be applicable to a redevelopment project. Thoughtful designers work to incorporate as many of these features as possible in their overall stormwater management design. Qualifying for some of these credits may not eliminate the need for waivers or other design measures, but it will help to cast your overall project design in the most positive light. If the reviewing agency sees that your development team is making an overall effort to improve existing stormwater conditions as much as possible, they will likely work with the team to see the project to fruition. When that can be accomplished expeditiously and within budget, we all succeed. Andrew Ferretti is Manager of Maryland Operations for BL Companies’ Baltimore, Maryland office. He can be reached at