Did You Know: The Inconvenience of Road Construction

Posted by and on Nov 17, 2015

road workAs civil engineers and surveyors, there are many aspects of our daily jobs that are second nature to us. But we hear common questions about our field often from the public. In this “Did You Know” blog series, we’ll answer some of these questions.

As engineers who work in the traffic and transportation sector, we are very involved in the roadway construction process. Because it affects us all, people are not shy about asking questions related to the inconvenience of the road construction process.

In this post, we hope to provide some information that will explain a little more about the road construction process, why it’s pretty complicated and why it can take so long.

One of the big reasons why it can be a long process is that there are many unknowns. For example, we try to evaluate the underlying earth layers as best we can, but sometimes there are soft spots in the soil found during construction that have to be addressed before construction can continue. Or there are utility lines discovered when the drainage pipe is being installed that were not known about during the design stage. In this case, the utility has to move or the drainage pipe has to move, both of which will require some amount of design work. These types of problems and associated costs combined with the additional funding required to correct them has to go through the bureaucratic process of being dedicated. Weather can also be uncooperative with production, and sometimes a contractor might have bitten off more than he can chew and not have the proper equipment or manpower to tackle the job.

There are many unknowns and many issues that can arise. When most of us see a project starting, years of work have already gone into the planning. For smaller city or county jobs, projects have likely been in the works for two to four years.  For larger ALDOT projects, that time frame goes up to five to 15 years.

From beginning to end, the life of a road project typically goes through these stages:  concept planning, traffic study, scoping, funding, environmental study, survey, geotechnical study, design, plan review, contract letting and finally construction. Most people only see or notice that last phase, but it is a big one.

And it can be inconvenient.  Typically pavement condition suffers during construction due to construction loads and work activities. Although we try to simplify it as much as possible, the orange cones, drums and signs can be confusing. They are also not as nice to look at as the plants and shrubs that go in at the end of a project. Sometimes lanes are taken away temporarily which causes delays and increases travel times for motorists.

But despite the inconveniences, it is so important for roadway construction projects to be done properly from the beginning. Poor planning, design and construction will end up costing more and being even more of a nuisance to people if the road then requires additional projects or maintenance. In all of our projects, the well-being and safety of the public is the number one priority.

So next time you drive through a construction zone, remember that the project is actually in its final stages, and the end product will be worth the wait.

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