San Francisco-based Bechtel, the nation’s largest construction and civil engineering firm, last week landed a contract befitting an enterprise of its magnitude. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has tapped the firm to manage its National Project Management Office (NPMO), created last year to reduce inefficiencies and costs on infrastructure projects in the face of the country’s diminishing oil revenues.
Under Bechtel’s management, including its operations in the Saudi city of Riyadh, NPMO intends to jump-start public construction in the region. In 2015, Saudi Arabia halted all major contract awards on infrastructure projects amid reports of annual overruns of $80–100 billion resulting from inefficient procurement practices. Should all go as planned, NPMO will administer $1 trillion in capital projects as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan, an initiative seeking to reduce the country’s dependence on oil by diversifying it into sectors such as health, education, recreation, and tourism.
NPMO is one of several interests in the Middle East seeking the expertise of US-based multinational design and construction firms active in Saudia Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Among others, Parsons Corp., a Pasadena, CA-based engineering firm with operations in Riyadh and Dubai, UAE, and engineering firm Halcrow Group–London recently contracted with Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority to oversee construction of the Dubai Water Canal, with Parsons responsible for related roads and bridges. With offices in Dubai and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Khobar, Houston-based engineering and construction firm McDermott International recently contracted with Saudi Aramco to work on engineering, procurement, transportation, installation, testing, and precommissioning of nine slipover jackets and decks, sub-sea pipelines, and cable for the Safaniya and Zuluf oil fields off Saudi Arabia’s shore.
In the meantime, US-based architects Gensler, HOK, and CallisonRTKL, each with offices in the region, are involved in a trio of theme parks included in the planned $64 billion DubaiLand, a 278-square-kilometer development being undertaken by Tatweer that will also feature sports venues, ecotourism, science attractions, and hotels. Meridian, CO-based engineer CH2M, with operations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, is participating in infrastructure design for the project, which has been likened to a larger version of Disney World. In addition to working in Saudi Arabia, Bechtel has been active in Qatar, where it designed and constructed Hamad International Airport.
The firm outbid Fluor, Parsons, CH2M, AECOM, and Hill International, all with operations in the Middle East, for the NPMO commission. The enterprise may have had an edge, given its decades-long involvement in several key Saudi projects, including Jubail, a 40-year undertaking, begun in the 1970s, that transformed a fishing village into the world’s largest industrial center. In June 2016, Bechtel signed a five-year contract with the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu to continue management for both industrial cities.
In 2013, Bechtel completed construction of an aluminum smelter, the cornerstone of Saudi Arabia’s Ras Al-Khair industrial city. The same year, the firm was selected to design and construct a pair of rail lines for the city of Riyadh. The $10 billion project broke ground in 2015. The firm additionally managed construction of Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport and designed and constructed King Fahd International Airport in the Saudi city of Dammam.
“Bechtel is privileged to have worked in Saudi Arabia for 70 years, developing megaprojects from oil and gas facilities to airports and critical infrastructure,” Bechtel’s Dr. Amjad Bangash, general manager of European, African, and Middle East operations, said in a statement. “We thank the National Project Management Organization for the opportunity to continue our legacy in the Kingdom.”
“Bechtel will mobilize experts from across the company to develop world-class systems and processes for NPMO and share these new tools across the Saudi government, ministries, and entities,” Bechtel project director Georges Chahine added. “We will train Saudi nationals and implement a knowledge-management system.”