| Construction complaints FAQ
last updated May 5, 2019
is a subject that generates a lot of complaints, and everybody knows what should be done, right? Yes,
construction is often inconvenient and frustrating, although sometimes it seems
like many folks simply have a visceral reaction to
the orange signs and barricades and perceive the amount of inconvenience to be
more than it really is. As with most things, there are two sides to the story, and this topic is no exception. Believe it or not, the city, county, and state and their
contractors do work hard to minimize
the amount of disruption as much as possible, but some inconvenience is
inevitable-- that's just reality. Remember, "no pain, no gain."
Read on for answers and explanations to
some frequent questions and complaints.
Why is there no work being done?
One of the most
common gripes uttered 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 drainage or utility 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.
continue until concrete or pavement has cured.
elements of the project need to be complete before others, which means
that some sections inherently go dormant in the meantime.
is waiting on a delayed utility adjustment or material
integral piece of equipment has broken-down and is awaiting repair.
- A required 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 construction take so
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 would be to consider what it would be like to
room with the furniture still in it-- doing so
substantially increases the time and effort it takes to get the job
done. That's just reality.
any project manager worth their salt will tell you, there are three
options for completing any project: fast, good, and cheap; the catch is
that you can only have two.
course, all road projects need to be done right (good), so that leaves
vs. cheap. Since most projects have limited funding, that means they
can't be done as fast as we'd all like.
Why does there always seem to be delays on road projects?
you've ever tackled a major home improvement project (or even just
watched one of those home improvement shows), you know that just about
every construction project encounters snags-- it's just the nature of
the beast, and road work is no different. All kinds of things can go
wrong during a road project-- workers digging find a surprise utility
or geological feature, delivery of materials can be delayed or
those materials may be problematic in some way, equipment can break
down, and so on... not to mention delays caused by weather. Project
timelines usually include some "wiggle-room" to try and account for
these issues, but big problems or even a lot of little ones can consume
that buffer and delay a project. No matter how thorough and meticulous the planning a project has undergone, it will
almost surely encounter issues; simply put, planners and engineers don't know what
they don't know.
Why is this road always under construction? / They
just finished a project on this road and now they're starting
This might be the second most uttered complaint about road work. Yes,
sometimes it seems like a certain road is always under construction and
has been for (fill-in an arbitrary number of years here.) While some
projects do take a long time (see the explanation for that above), many
times, it really only seems
like a road is always being worked on. Most often, what you're
remembering is previous work on a
different section of that road. Sometimes large projects are done
in phases due to funding or other constraints. Other times, there are
several individual projects to address different needs along a road.
Over time, different sections of a
road need repairs, improvements,
reconstruction, etc., and these projects can start to blend together
in people's memories. But maintenance is required every so often, and
increasing traffic, as well as advances in engineering, means obsolete
improvements from time-to-time. In short, roads will always
be an incremental work-in-progress. Would you want
to drive on a road built a century ago? That's what we would have
if roads were built once and never worked on again.
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. First of all, different contractors work the various
projects, and each project then usually has several subcontractors.
Each contractor has their own crews, so there's obviously not just one
construction crew. While contractors do often work multiple jobs and do
sometimes shift workers
around those various jobs as needed (for example, if one project needs
additional workers for a few days to complete a milestone, 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 worked and much as
possible. To be sure, there may be cases where a needed crew may be working on one project and not
be immediately available for another when that project is ready for
them. When this happens, a contractor will often then try to do some
other items on that project 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?
While work on a few mega-projects does continue around-the-clock
nearly so), most projects simply can't do so as
this would increase the labor costs of the project
substatinally. Since highway funding is already limited, spending more money on one job so it can be
completed a few months faster means less funding is available for other needed projects. With the reluctance
of the public (that's you) to accept higher taxes and/or tolls to pay
for it, 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 major 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.
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, an arbitrary section of a city or county, a
whole city or
county, a region of the state...? So for argument's sake, let's
say it's by county. In Bexar County, there are typically 10 or so
major highway projects underway at any
given time with most major projects needing
two to three years to complete even working nearly non-stop. Simple
math shows that those 10
projects that could be done in three years concurrently would
take 20-30 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 various milestones 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.
Why are manholes and storm drains higher than the road
surface in construction areas?
During road widening or resurfacing projects,
manholes, storm drains,
gutters, and other concrete or iron works in construction zones are
often several inches above the road surface. Additionally, the
transition to other
roadways also usually has a bump or lip, all making for a rough ride.
Many people wonder why this is with some even believing it's some kind
the reason is quite simple: manholes, storm drains, and so forth all
are built to the level of the final road surface. However, that final
layer of pavement (usually about 2 inches worth) is not laid down until
the very end of the project. Therefore, when a road is still under
construction but open to traffic, there will be a two inch or so
difference between the temporary road surface and those other
why not lay down the final layer of pavement before letting traffic use
the road? Essentially, it's the same reason why you don't put down
carpet or flooring in a house that's still being built-- you don't want
it to be damaged by the work. Also, traffic driving on the subsurface
layers of pavement while it cures can cause it to settle and/or deform
slightly, so it makes for a better final product to wait until the
subsurface layers are well-packed and cured before applying to top
layer. That allows the top layer to smooth-out any imperfections
that develop in the lower layers during that initial use.
why not install the manholes at the lower level and raise them up
during final paving? Simply put-- that's nearly impossible and would be
extremely expensive to do. That would be like putting a roof on the
first story of a planned two-story house, then moving it to the top of
the second story later. Pretty dumb, huh?
the record, this is not something that's only done in San Antonio or
Texas. This is the practice pretty much everywhere in the US and even
overseas (I've personally seen it in Germany and England.) In short,
it's just how it's done. However, here in San
Antonio and in many other areas, they typically try to minimize the
danger and annoyance by building
small asphalt ramps around these hazards to reduce the potential impact
of hitting one. In the end, though, it's your responsibility to be a
careful and observant driver and avoid those land mines as best as you
can or slow down if you can't.
Why didn't they expand this road years ago before the traffic got so bad?
answer is, roads need to be expanded when they need to be expanded.
While planners do make projections and monitor traffic volumes on roads
to try and anticipate where expansions will soon be needed, there
generally has to be a demonstrable need for a project before it can get
approved and funded. And if you think about it, that's good public
policy. If the government were to widen a road on a whim, and then the
traffic never materialized, that would be a lot of wasted tax dollars
that could have been spent on something that was needed. Given
that there isn't enough funding for the needs we already have,
spending those scarce resources in areas that don't yet need it really
doesn't make sense. Not to mention that a system like that would be
wide open for abuse.
a need is identified, it does take some lead time to plan, engineer,
and get environmental clearances for the project and then fund it. Most
agencies develop basic schematics for future expansions ahead of time
to help shorten that timeline, but until the traffic materializes and
planners can determine at the exact needs, they really can't have a
fully developed project ready to go. For example, when a new
development is built, they can easily anticipate what will be needed in
the immediate vicinity, such as turn lanes or widening an adjacent
road. But beyond the immediate area of that development, there is no
way to know ahead of time which directions, for example, people leaving
that development are going to go, the cumulative affects of which then
impacts roads further away. So until that traffic materializes, it's
virtually impossible to predict what improvements will be needed and