Why Does Road Construction Take So Long?

Most of us have dealt with the annoyance of having to commute through construction, especially during the summer months. Some projects seem to take months—even years—to complete. And it can really make you wonder, “What exactly is making this road construction take so long?” In case this is something you’ve recently wondered about a construction project near your home, here is a look at some factors that can heavily influence how long it takes to complete a road construction project.

Road Construction Workers

It’s a bigger project than it sounds.

Firstly, it’s important to consider just how much work is truly involved in the project. Let’s say, for example, that there is a four-mile stretch of the interstate that is going to get repaved. Four miles doesn’t sound like a whole lot. But think of it this way: if that interstate has five lanes going in each direction, then that’s really ten lanes each that need four miles paved. So in total, that’s really a “40 lane mile” project. Add to that any shoulder that needs to be repaved, any ramps that need resurfacing, and any jersey barrier that needs to be replaced, and you’ve got yourself a much larger project than you originally envisioned.

Road construction is also a more intricate process than it sounds. Building a road involves stabilized sub-base, base course, drainage systems, reinforcing, paving, sawing joints, curing shoulder, striping, guardrails, etc. All of those details require different processes, different crews, and different equipment.

Workers must work around commuters.

Workers simply cannot work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on a road construction project, as there are always going to be commuters and long distance travelers who need to use the road. In other words, road construction workers have to work around many thousands of vehicles per day—even hundreds of thousands of vehicles. Because vehicles are constantly using the road, work hours must be limited to avoid having lane closures during peak travel times.

There are lane rental rules.

Do you ever pass a long stretch of road that is blocked off for miles, even though only one part of that stretch is being worked on? This could have something to do with lane rental rules. Rules that incentivize road workers to work quickly say that you have to pay for each day that a lane is out of use. This means that it costs no less to block off a lane for the entire stretch of a project, rather than for only the small portion where you are working.

Road Construction Series

Weather can hinder work.

Weather is definitely a factor as well. Thunderstorms, for example, might temporarily shut down a project. Rain, meanwhile, can destroy the moisture content in base courses (the layer below the pavement), so construction may have to stop completely when rain is in the forecast. Asphalt and concrete also have their own specific temperature requirements, and this can cause resurfacing to be put on hold entirely the winter months.

Public dollars are limited.

Here’s another thing to remember: speed costs more, so if the government wants a project to be completed more quickly, it is going to have to pay for it. Road workers are entitled to overtime, and it costs more to pay for them to work at night. Since public dollars are so often limited, opting for the fastest-possible timeline isn’t always an option.

Engineering, equipment, training, etc. is much more extensive today.

Another thing to consider is just how many requirements there are today in the world of construction. The Empire State Building may have taken 410 days to complete, for example, but there is a remarkable difference between building something in the 1920s and building something today. This page offers some insight as to what goes into the lengthy process of construction training.

Road Construction Equipment

Equipment is expensive.

Paving equipment and other types of construction equipment are very expensive, so usually a crew will have just the one of a certain type of equipment to work with. If anything happens to this equipment, be it a result of rain, dust, or debris, there can definitely be a delay until it’s possible to work with that equipment again.

Environmental protection.

Sometimes the issue of environment or wildlife protection can come into play. If an endangered species is found near a construction site, for example, that can put a construction project to a complete halt while mitigation is made.

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