| Construction complaints FAQ
last updated December 23, 2016
Road construction is a topic that generates a lot of complaints. Here are answers to some frequent questions on the topic.
Why is there no work being done?
One of the most
common recurring gripes I hear about road construction is that it seems
like there's often not any work being done on a specific project. However, this is generally not the
case. Oftentimes, there is work being done that you
simply don't see, such as underground or off-site drainage work. That said, there are times when work sites are
dormant as the result of a number of legitimate circumstances:
weather or its after-effects; besides the obvious effects of rain, it
should also be noted that cold weather can delay a project as asphalt
and concrete often cannot be laid or poured in cold temperatures
- Work cannot
continue until concrete or pavement has cured
- The contractor
is waiting on a delayed utility adjustment or material delivery
- An integral piece of equipment has broken-down and is awaiting repair
- A needed crew or piece of equipment is working another section of the project or a different project
discovered on the work site that was unexpected that requires the
contractor to wait while a change is designed and approved
Why does it seem like construction takes so long?
answer is pretty straight-forward: major road projects are
extremely complex and require an incredible amount of work. And,
while all that all work is going on, traffic
still has to be able to reasonably move through the work zone. A
good analogy is to consider what it would be like to re-carpet a
room with the furniture still in it-- doing so
substantially increases the time it takes to get the job done.
That's just reality.
any project manager worth their salt will tell you, there are three
options to complete any project: fast, good, and cheap; the catch is
that you can only have two.
course, all projects need to be done right (good), so that leaves fast
vs. cheap. Since most projects have limited funding, that means they
can't be done as fast as we'd all like.
Why don't contractors dedicate crews to projects?
common belief is that there is one construction crew that cycles around
to various projects and that this is the cause of the work sites being
absent of workers. While contractors do sometimes shift workers
around to various jobs as needed (for example, if one project needs
additional workers for a few days to complete a major element, a
contractor may bring in workers from another project to knock it out),
for the most part, contractors do try to schedule their crews and
subcontractors so that major projects are continuously worked.
There may be cases where specialized teams, such as a crew that
pours concrete or lays asphalt, may be working on one project and not
be immediately available for another when that project is ready for
them. Often, a contractor will then try to do some work
out-of-sequence with the crews they do have available if they can in
order to keep the project progressing. It's actually in the
contractor's financial interest to do so, not only to avoid delays that
may result in penalties (see below), but also because they want to get
the job completed so that they can move their crews and equipment on to
the next paying job.
projects worked-on 24 hours a day?
Construction on some mega-projects does continue around-the-clock or
nearly so. However, most projects can't do so because doing so
would require three shifts of workers, which
would increase the labor cost of the project by at least three-fold
(likely more since workers who work at night often are entitled to
shift differential pay.) This would drive-up the overall cost of
construction not just on those projects, but also citywide since hiring
that many workers could create a labor shortage, especially in the
usually-tight Texas construction labor markets. That, along with
long-standing highway funding shortfalls and the reluctance
of the public (that's you) to accept higher taxes and/or tolls, there
are simply not enough resources to work every project around-the-clock.
projects worked on at night?
Most major projects that require significant lane closures on
heavily-travelled routes do have overnight work. Just because you
see work being done during the day doesn't mean there also isn't work
done at night. Some tasks, however, may not be done at night for
safety or logistical reasons. And sometimes a particular task may
require continuous work or sequencing
that cannot be
completed within a single nighttime closure. If those tasks
require closures, they're typically done over a
weekend to minimize the impact on commuters. And as mentioned in
the previous point, overnight work often has higher costs associated
with it, which means that for many projects, the cost/benefit is just
not there to justify it. People generally want government to be
judicious in spending tax dollars, and this is an example of that.
Why not finish
one project before starting another?
If road construction was done one project at a time, it would take even
to get things done. First of all, what would be the
boundaries of the "one-project-at-a-time" zone? Would it be a
specific road segment, an arbitrary section of a city, a whole city, a
county, a region of the state...? So for argument's sake, let's
say it's Bexar County. There are typically a half-dozen or so
major highway projects underway in Bexar County at any
given time with most major projects needing
two to three years to complete even working nearly non-stop. Can you image how long it would
take then to build those half-dozen projects if they had to
wait two to three years
for each one to be done before they could start the next? Six
projects that could be done in three years concurrently would take 12-18 years
if done one at a time. And that doesn't include the dozens of
smaller projects underway at any given time. There is simply no
way to ever get all the needed congestion, safety, and maintenance
improvements done on that kind of schedule. On top of all that, construction costs
typically increase every year, so waiting additional time to build
projects just increases their cost.
the state fine contractors who take too long to finish a project?
Actually, they do. Nearly every construction contract let by
TxDOT includes a timeline to finish the project and a provision for
TxDOT to assess some form of liquidated damages (i.e. a monetary
penalty) if that timeline is not met. Also, some contracts
require the contractor to "rent" lanes by the hour to close them.
Many projects also contain
a bonus for early completion.