By Kendal Smith
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 19, 2008 - Uranium Road, which runs from Hit to Asad, is getting a $29.6 million makeover in the longest road project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq. The mission-essential 51-kilometer alternate supply route, now more than 60 percent finished and targeted for completion in early April, is Phase 1 of a planned two-stage project.
When pouring 1.5-kilometer sections on the road, the engineers' contracted work force lays down about 500 metric tons of asphalt daily. The asphalt used on the route is produced at a secure site on Al Asad Air Base with equipment brought to Iraq by the Iraqi-owned contractor Iraq Technical Assistance Services Engineering and Contracting. The 92 pieces of heavy, medium and light equipment include the largest, a D9 Caterpillar bulldozer, for the initial cut and fill work. Extensive asphalt manufacturing modules operate to continually supply the transport dump trucks rotating from Al Asad to the asphalt pour site.
To keep the work flow as expeditious as possible, the engineers coordinated with Marine Regimental Combat Team 5, which manages the battle space area, to direct all convoy traffic to other routes. This diversion allowed more constant application of the asphalt and less time spent on road repair. Routine convoy traffic on Uranium impaired the initial work, requiring periodic restoration of sections that were previously ready for asphalt.
Security also played a part in the initial slow progress; however, the contractor's local hiring and purchasing practices helped moderate some of the concerns. The contracting company hired additional security to allow more work to occur simultaneously at multiple work sites, and RCT 5 was instrumental in coordinating clearances for them. Security and coordination with the Marines were two key success factors to enable the project to get back on schedule with now a very high likelihood of finishing the job on time or ahead of schedule, officials said.
"We are making a daily difference in the lives of my countrymen," said the company's Iraqi owner, Talat Younis. "When they are working, there is bread for the children; then there is a better life, a more secure one for everybody."
More than 300 employees working the site, including 80 Iraqis hired as security forces, are from the nearby cities of Hit and Baghdadi. Younis said he believes the jobs provided income and stability for the communities. The contractor also makes local purchases of material and equipment rental that he thinks are helpful in keeping the project safely moving along.
"Mr. Younis did a very smart thing by hiring many local nationals from Baghdadi and Hit to work this project," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Lee, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Asad Resident Office commander. "He's definitely made it of greater interest and concern to the Iraqis in the area. People want to work for him."
That was not the only security consideration for Uranium's paving.
Sweeping of the road when convoys were traveling on it resulted in some work stoppages, as improvised explosive devices were found along the way. With the road completion, expectations are that it will be easier to spot any disturbances along the route and, therefore, make it safer for the Marines and others to travel the road to Asad.
The stages of progress in the road-building effort are generally divided into four parts, which now occur simultaneously over the length of the project: the initial grading, followed by sub-base lay down and compaction, then base course application and, finally, the asphalt pour. Another 49 kilometers of Uranium Road would repair the road from Asad to Haditha as Phase 2.
(Kendal Smith is a public affairs officer with the Gulf Region Central District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Iraq.)