Civil Engineer (ret.)
Civil engineer Ken Mathers has over 50 years’ experience in the delivery of major road infrastructure. He was CEO of Linking Melbourne Authority for 12 years. During this time the organisation managed the planning and procurement of major road undertakings, namely EastLink, Peninsula Link and the Eastern Section of East West Link.
A qualified company director, he served on the Boards of City North Infrastructure in Queensland, Roads Australia and Victoria’s Regional Rail Link Authority Advisory Board.
He was awarded Roads Australia’s John Shaw Medal in 2012 for outstanding service to road transport, and the Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, Chairman’s Prize in 2016.
Retired from full-time work, Ken is currently Chairperson of the Office of Projects Victoria Advisory Board, and participates in Gateway Reviews for Infrastructure NSW and both Victoria’s and Queensland’s Department of Treasury and Finance.
How long have you been a member of Engineers Australia?
I first joined as a Student Member in late 1960’s, so more than 50 years. I worked actively with several Regional Groups, served as Chairman of Victoria Division in 1999 and was a member of the National Council between 2000 and 2003.
Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
I was encouraged by my brother who was an Electrical Engineer, and I chose Civil Engineering because of the broad range of career opportunities this profession offered.
How can Australian communities/people/society benefit from your work now and in the future?
In managing the planning and delivery of major road infrastructure I endeavoured to allow for population growth and urban development to the extent possible given the constraints within government, to provide quality service performance for as long as possible.
Building these important transport facilities has included extensive landscaping, architectural features and the addition of public amenity assets such as pathways for cyclists and pedestrians. Together with the new road, these assets have enhanced local environments and will serve communities well into the future.
The aesthetic treatment of noise walls, retaining walls and bridge barriers, and the quality of planting, help make the road environment more attractive and interesting. Eastlink and Peninsula Link set new benchmarks for urban design on Freeways in Melbourne and have been adopted in projects since developed or underway.
I have participated in mentoring programs for young engineers and project managers aimed at improving their knowledge and skills in the planning and delivery of infrastructure.
In my current role at the Office of Projects Victoria, the Advisory Board has ensured appropriate emphasis is given to the continual training and development of engineers and other professions responsible for the current infrastructure program.
What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on?
The most challenging activities for me have been the pre-construction planning, procurement process and overview of the design and construction of Melbourne’s City Link as one of the first Public Private Partnership (PPP) roads in Australia.
City Link involved significant enhancements to existing Freeways, building new viaducts and bridges, and extensive 3-lane tunnels. The project aim was to link some of Melbourne’s busiest roads to effectively provide a bypass of the CBD. It really opened up the opportunity for the City to grow.
Another key initiative in the planning of City Link was to mandate electronic tolling. The private sector rose up to the challenge with great intensity and undertook the crucial marketing and promotion to ensure this bold initiative would be successful. City Link had the second electronic tolling system in the world.
What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
Engineers must continue to endeavor to see that engineering developments are:
• planned carefully and have the necessary approvals
• inclusive of technological developments and allow for innovation
• fit for purpose and meet quality expectations
• delivered to budget and time constraints
• delivered with safety paramount and be economically and socially beneficial to society
• environmentally sustainable.
The emerging issue of climate change and consequences for mankind is a critical matter for all of us. One would expect that engineers will have to be involved in addressing it and assist in finding and implementing solutions.
What excites you about the future of the profession or what opportunities do you see for the future?
The current boom in infrastructure, particularly in roads and transport, has provided real opportunities for the engineering profession. It is exciting to observe!
It would be reasonable to assume that infrastructure will continue to be developed at this rate for sometime yet. This would mean an increased requirement for engineers, supervisors, site personnel and physical resources. Engineering managers will have a key role to play in addressing the challenge.
Undoubtedly, there will be an increasing demand for new innovative solutions. These will surely be aimed at faster and more efficient ways of undertaking projects, conserving natural resources, and ensuring better environment protection to name just a few. Keeping abreast of advances in technology, and having the courage to utilise these (where applicable) will be vitally important in the future.
Who is your engineering hero?
This is quite a difficult question to answer. One could look back at famous engineers like the eminent Sir John Monash to adopt as a hero. Alternatively you could consider the many outstanding engineers that are encountered during a long career and select one as a hero. On reflection I have tried to answer the question by considering the engineers that have helped me the most along the way.
Three engineers stand out for me who all acted as mentors. The first is Tom Glazebrook, a Divisional Engineer from the Country Roads Board in Bendigo. During the 1970’s he set the example and gave me considerable encouragement and technical guidance within the early years of my career.
Major General John Stein was a wonderful leader during my short time in the Royal Australian Engineers as a National Service Officer providing opportunities wherever possible.
Ian Withell is another engineer whose advice was invaluable during the planning and development of City Link. He subsequently assisted me greatly in my role as CEO of Linking Melbourne Authority. I led the team responsible for the planning, procurement and delivery oversight of two major road PPP projects – EastLink and Peninsula Link. The former as a toll road and the latter being the first “Availability” PPP for roads in Australia.
Image courtesy: Ken Mathers.