The 9.1 magnitude earthquake and resulting series of tsunamis that struck off the western coast of Sumatra, Indonesia in 2004 destroyed coastal communities in 11 countries. Hardest hit was the Indonesian province of Aceh, where an estimated 174,000 people were killed and over 500,000 displaced. Critical basic infrastructure was left in ruins while the national road along the West Coast was destroyed along most of its length. Even after the Indonesian military temporarily restored ground transportation along Aceh’s West Coast, vehicles making the trip had to navigate unpaved gravel roads, one-lane temporary bridges and improvised ferries. This tsunami’s destruction was so indiscriminating and widespread that almost nothing in its path was spared including the local engineering community.
In designing and constructing a new high-tech coastal highway to trigger the Aceh economy, the winning InARoaD project had to overcome endless obstacles of logistics, government coordination, community outreach, capacity building/technology transfer, budget constraints and environmental management in a devastated, rudimentary location that – on top of everything else – had been the scene of a 30 year insurgency.
The design of the new two-lane road had to take into account Aceh’s unique blend of rainforest, coastal swamplands and steep limestone hills. The alignment’s design also had to comprise segments of new road to replace those that had disappeared where the coastline was reshaped; and link these with segments of pre-existing road that needed to be rehabilitated and often widened. At an early stage, the project made an important decision to focus on the quality, safety and durability of the new road at the expense of quick completion.
The result is a modern, well maintained roadway that is acknowledged as one of the primary catalysts of the Aceh economy that is successfully rebounding from one of the greatest natural disasters in recorded history.
In this respect, the project serves as an exemplary model for future emergency relief efforts in developing countries.
Quite apart from its major economic, social and humanitarian contributions to the region, the road also represents a major achievement in terms of its sheer quality. It has been cited in publications as diverse as the New York Times and National Geographic Explorer for its silky smooth surface that stands out over typical Indonesian rural roads. The bridges also exceed the Indonesian standard by providing greater width and independent pedestrian walkways. Finally, and perhaps most inspirationally, the highway has greatly contributed to the peace and stability of a once-troubled region.