The Gibraltar airport road and tunnel project has experienced numerous delays and obstacles since the tender was awarded 2008. According to the Government of Gibraltar, the works are now expected to be completed by the second quarter of 2021.
So long as there are no further ‘roadblocks’ in the way of construction, the tunnel and road, which will allow vehicles to travel around and under the Gibraltar International Airport, will be ready.
This major project has been in the pipeline for many years and will mean that vehicles will no longer need to cross the runway itself; alleviating traffic jams as planes land or take off, and in turn will improve quality of life for Gibraltarians, visitors and tourists.
A spokesperson for the Government of Gibraltar told ReachExtra that the project is progressing, and we can expect it to be opened by the second quarter of 2021: “The works on the airport road and tunnel are progressing and the contractor has now completed most of the principal structural works. At the moment, they’re working on the mechanical and electrical installations, which, so long as progress is not hindered, the project is expected to be completed during the second half of 2021.”
OHL is a Spanish construction company which was initially contracted for the design and construction of this 1.24km road which is made up of two lanes in each direction, which will connect to the frontier via Devil’s Tower Road, Eastern Beach Road and Catalan Bay Road.
The road itself will then run underneath the Gibraltar International Airport through a 350-metre tunnel beneath the landing strip.
Cycle lanes and pavements for pedestrian access are also being installed parallel to the tunnel road. Electricity, mechanical, road safety facilities, signage and drainage are being completed.
The works include the construction of a control and management centre for the tunnel, a storage facility for the loading and unloading of aviation fuel, as well as a new runway edge lights on the landing strip.
This project was awarded to OHL in 2008 for the sum of £30.23 million (€35.7m) by the previous GSD government. The works were then halted in 2011. Since the very beginning of this project, problems and delays have been constant, which have included a legal battle in court.
A Hard-Fought Legal Battle
OHL commenced works on the project, but in August 2011 the Government of Gibraltar terminated the contract which caused the company to issue a legal action.
In 2014, the High Court of Justice of England and Wales ruled in favour of the government of Gibraltar, considering that it had properly terminated the contract. The court then found OHL to have been in breach of contract and ordered it to pay the additional expenses which the government would have to incur to complete the project.
OHL was also ordered to pay the government’s legal costs, which were duly paid. The company went on to appeal the judgment, which was then dismissed by the Court of Appeal in London in July 2015. A subsequent application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court of England was dismissed.
As this legal battle raged on in the courts, the Government of Gibraltar, under current Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, announced that works would resume under the management of Gibraltar-based construction company Joinery & Building Services Ltd (GJBS), after terminating their contract with OHL. It was then said that works would last between 14 and 24 months; but nothing could have been further from reality…
But nothing is set in stone. Almost 2 years later, in June 2016, the Government of Gibraltar then announced a new agreement with OHL to resume and complete the works after their legal battle was determined in London.
Convent Place said that this would avoid further delays and that the agreement included requiring the construction company to complete the works before November 30, 2018 and guarantee that it would be executed at a cost which was approximately the same as that contained in the 2008 estimate. The new contract expressly provided that any delay beyond the agreed date would trigger a payment of liquidated damages (i.e. compensation) to the Government of Gibraltar.
Although the original contract was for £30 million for the construction of the access tunnel to the airport, the price was then reduced to £24 million. This reduction in the price would compensate the Government for its costs and expenses arising from the termination of the previous contract and to include some of the works carried out by GJBS.
Fabian Picardo then argued that although the new agreement might come as a surprise to many, the government’s priority was to ensure the completion of the works as soon as possible and to the required standard of quality. At the time he said that to carry on with the court proceedings would only delay completion of works and continue generating costs. He added that it was time to set aside the differences and carry on.
In a statement made in Parliament last February, Picardo said that the quality of the finish product was more important than rushing to completion.
OHL, which declined to make a statement to ReachExtra about the situation, confirmed at the time that there was a new climate of cooperation with Gibraltar and also set the end of 2018 as the deadline for completion of works, something which did not come to pass.
Refractaris, a Córdoba-based company, was awarded the contract for installing a fire protection system in the tunnel, which is one of the most important safety aspects of the project.
Refractaris is one of the Spanish specialist companies which provides high-temperature fire protection systems, not only in Spain, but in various South African countries, China, Chile, Morocco and Dubai.
In the specific area of passive protection against fires in tunnels, this Córdoba-based company counts among its many projects the Churriana tunnel in Malaga, which is 6.2km, and the fire protection and cladding in the ‘Kaxu Solar One’ solar power plant in South Africa.