The expansion of transportation infrastructure continues to be the common denominator across regions experiencing robust growth and urbanization as well as those seeking to stimulate or diversify their economic profile.
One example is the Middle East, where, despite sustained lower oil prices, countries are investing heavily in mass transit, highways and airports to encourage non-petroleum-related trade and business investment, manage population growth and support upcoming events, such as the 2020 Dubai World Expo and 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The mix includes mass-transit projects such as Doha’s planned four-line, 131.7-mile Metro light-rail transit network, the $8.2-billion first phase of which is due to begin operation in 2019, and the new 6.9-million-sq-ft passenger terminal at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “The speed of urbanization means governments are taking a very active interest in future-proofing, asset management and resilience planning to ensure today’s investments meet tomorrow’s needs,” says Roger Cruickshank, director of strategic transport planning in the Middle East for U.K.-based Atkins, which is lead designer for three of the six lines in Saudi Arabia’s $25-billion, 177-kilometer Riyadh Metro, scheduled to be fully constructed in 2018.
Cruickshank adds that, despite the dip in oil prices, government support for continued investment in critical projects will hold steady, albeit with “a more phased approach to address the most pressing needs first.”
Though construction activity in the region remains intense, Parsons Transportation Group President Todd Wager has yet to see any indication of materials or equipment shortages. “It’s not like the go-go days of 2007-08, when it was hard to source cranes and dredgers,” says Wager, whose firm is part of a joint venture with AECOM to manage the first stage of the United Arab Emirates’ 1,200-km Etihad national freight and passenger railway network. Wager also sees new design and construction possibilities in Kuwait, Bahrain and Egypt, where several major land development projects are under consideration. “There are a lot of needs [in Egypt],” he says, “but there has not been a whole lot of investment.”
Most Pacific Rim nations continue to invest heavily in rapid transit and aviation upgrades, as well. Work is progressing on the HK$75.5-billion Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link, although its completion has been pushed back to late 2018. A number of terminal expansion and operational improvements are underway at Hong Kong International Airport, while Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport has selected a design for its new $1-billion, 6.8-million-sq-ft terminal, scheduled for completion in 2020.
In Southeast Asia, the recently announced Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail link will improve connectivity between the two economic hubs, while Indonesia recently selected China Railway Construction Corp. Ltd. to develop the country’s first high-speed train. “Robust economic development within Southeast Asian countries creates a huge demand for infrastructure to meet the increasing transportation needs in the society, regardless of goods and commuters,” says Sean Chiao, AECOM’s president for the Asia Pacific region. The firm recently designed the first two stages of new oil-and-gas marine terminal facilities at Pengerang, Malaysia.
A potential disrupter to the sector may well be the advent of autonomous vehicles, which make greater use of new highway networks in China and elsewhere. Stu Lerner, senior vice president of transportation for Stantec, says these technologies could reduce some of the need to expand transportation infrastructure to accommodate a burgeoning population.