Why Does Road Construction Take So Long?

It’s time to answer the age-old question: why does road construction take so dang long to complete? Does it really take months to rip up a road, drop some fresh asphalt, and paint a few lines? The answer is more complex than you think. 

Road Construction: The Never Ending Story road construction

No patch of pavement escapes road construction. Every stretch of road in the world has a countdown timer to when it needs to be repaired or replaced. Drivers hate road construction due to the length of the construction process, delaying travelers and slowing the flow of goods between cities. 

Because roads have a short lifespan, road construction is happening all the time, everywhere. The American Road and Transportation Builders Association says that as of 2017, there are 4.18 million miles of roadway in the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. Much of those are in drastic need of repair, with nearly 20 percent of all major highways needing “repaving or even more substantive repairs.”

Expensive Asphalt

The costs for repairing any mile of roadway varies by location and available resources. Midwest Industries, a company that plays a vital role in road construction, estimates that road repair per mile starts at a low of $2 million:

Constructing a two-lane, undivided road in a rural locale will set you back somewhere between $2 and $3 million per mile — in urban areas, that number jumps to between $3 and $5 million. In a rural area, you can essentially build a road wherever you please (local zoning and property laws abiding), but in a city, you have to avoid the surrounding firmament and infrastructure and comply with strict construction codes.

road construction

…If you want wider roads, the costs understandably go up: for the production of a 4-lane highway, the cost per mile will run between $4 and $6 million in rural or suburban areas, and between $8 to $10 million in urban areas. For a 6 lane interstate highway, you’re looking at $7 million for a rural mile of road, and $11 million-plus in an urban locale.

Obviously, construction costs can easily overrun when you account for other factors like weather, available building resources, etc.

What’s in a Road?

It takes a lot of money to build a road. It also takes a lot of time. The best reason to explain why road construction takes so long is because of all the considerations one must take into account to build the road. These can include: 

  • Where the road will be built
    • Rural areas are much cheaper to build roads and highways than urban or inner city locations. Rural areas also often require less legal hurdles to jump through when obtaining land to build the road. 
    • Grading and filling gives the road a smooth, flat surface to be built on. Digging out a hillside or filling in a ravine will slow work until the grades and fills are finished and deemed safe to build on. 
  • What the road will be made of
    • Most roads are paved asphalt, but highways can be constructed out of concrete. Both make great roadways depending on the type of road best suited to that particular environment. 
  • If utilities need to be placed under the roadway
    • If sewer pipes or electrical lines need to be replaced, it’s best to do so while the road above it is being torn up for repairs. Construction of the road can easily be delayed to make room in the schedule for utility companies to have access underneath where the road will eventually go. 
  • How much traffic crews need to divert during construction
    • Building a new road where one didn’t exist before allows for construction crews to build at their own pace, unhindered by local traffic. 
    • When roads are being repaired or replaced, crews must account for traffic. Detours need to be planned and mapped out. Lanes need to be adjusted, and signage for those changes need to be placed to let drivers know about the construction. 
    • Repairing a stretch of road next to one still being used by traffic limits the amount of space crews have to work with. This can easily extend the project timeline for the sake of inconveniencing local traffic as little as possible. 
  • Inspections
    • Before any shovels dig into the ground, inspections must be made to assure taxpayers that the road will not have negative effects on the environment. Builders have to consider how groundwater, animal life, drainage, noise levels, and the proximity to schools and homes will have an impact. 
    • The base layer of the road, which is the gravel aggregate foundation that the road layers will rest on, needs to be just right in order to further construction to happen. If there is an issue with the quality of the base material (for example, the base material has settled too much and has become porous), it must be either replaced or recompacted before moving forward. 
    • Concrete strength should be measured as it cures to determine if it can handle the weight of a hillside or potentially millions of vehicles a year. This is especially important when building bridges, retention walls and tunnels. 
  • Weather
    • Good luck paving asphalt in the freezing cold. When temperatures drop below optimum levels and begin affecting the road project (via thickening chemicals, frozen ground, exposed pipes and valves), you need to get in control of those temperatures. Products such as heating blankets keep temperature-sensitive material warm, cure concrete faster, and prevents ice buildup on construction equipment. 

Just from this short list of considerations when building roads, you can see why they take so long to construct. Nothing can be overlooked. Your safety depends on it. 

Road Construction: It Happens, So Be Prepared

There is a lot that goes into road construction. Delays can be costly for involved businesses and irritating to drivers. 

One of the most easily mitigated issues when building a road is temperature control. Make sure that you’re using the best heating equipment available to keep your project on schedule and prevent costs from overrunning. 

Powerblanket offers the highest quality heating blankets in the world. Whether building a road from scratch or patching a hole in the asphalt, Powerblanket will make sure cold temperatures don’t impact your project. Call 844.245.6604 or email [email protected] for more information. 

Learn More About Freeze Protection

Cold Weather Construction Safety

Cold Weather Safety for Construction

The construction industry is a high risk industry, regardless of the time of year. But when cold temperatures, snow, ice, and wind are added to the mix, precautions must be in place to protect your workforce, equipment, materials, and the job.

Preparing and educating your employees on cold weather winter safety best practices can reduce the rate of illness, injury, and dangerous accidents. Always emphasize “safety first.”

Winter Construction Safety Tips

For trade specific guidelines on how to keep your crew and job site safe visit OSHA to start winter off on the right foot.

Know the forecast

Pay attention to changing weather conditions. Today we enjoy the benefit of real time updates on our phones and computers. Sign up for weather alert notifications so you can stay updated out in the field. When the weather outside is unsuitable for outside work, reschedule.  

Limit exposure to the elements

Wind chill can take an existing temperature from workable to downright miserable.  And when wind and low temperatures are combined, it can be hard to reduce exposure for workers. Your employees were not made to be outdoors in these elements for long periods of time. Shorten the duration of outside work and break up larger projects into smaller tasks. Educate yourself on early and late symptoms of hypothermia so you can keep a watchful eye on your crew. Keep a lookout for excessive shivering, fatigue, coordination loss, and disorientation. Have a plan in place to quickly warm and dry anyone exhibiting these symptoms. 

Establish a warm break area

Outside work is absolutely unavoidable for the construction industry, but workers need a place away from the elements to take a break. A heated trailer or a tent with portable heaters and appropriate ventilation works great. Educate supervisors and workers on proper safety procedures with heating devices.

Emphasize proper hydration

We forget that our bodies sweat, even when it is cold outside, and especially when we are wearing extra layers of clothing. Keep plenty of water on hand.  While many workers think caffeinated drinks will get them through their day, water is what the body really needs.

Require clothing that will keep workers warm and dry

Boots with non-slip soles, heavy coats, gloves, and hats are all essential for protecting the body from severe cold weather. Proper clothing is the first step in preventing hypothermia and frostbite and for cold weather protection.

Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia

Even when employers do everything they can to protect workers, issues can still arise. Supervisors and workers need to know the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite so that if anyone shows these signs, they can receive immediate medical attention.

Remove Snow and Ice

Check the job site early each day, before the work begins, for snow and ice accumulation and for any additional hazards. Be prepared with salt or sand and remove large patches of snow and ice. Snow and ice removal, if left to the crew, will slow down the job and deplete their energy.

Winterize and prepare vehicles

Before heading into the cold season, inspected all vehicles and equipment to determine if they are prepared for cold weather construction. Top off fluids, check tire tread and air pressure, and change filters. Equip all vehicles with winter kits that contain an ice scraper, snow brush, shovel, tow chain, flashlight with extra batteries, emergency flares, a blanket, snacks and water. Also, educate workers on what to do and who to call if they are stranded in a vehicle.

Prepare and protect equipment

In addition to preparing vehicles for winter safety, smaller construction equipment also needs attention. Air compressors work best in well-ventilated areas with an ambient temperature in the compressor system’s optimal range, typically 40-95°F. If the temperature around your compressor becomes too hot or too cold, the compressor may not start or may exhibit performance issues. Moisture control also becomes a factor.  Moisture that becomes ice can accumulate and affect the way the system runs, blocking drainage and preventing efficient compression.

Protect Critical Materials

Adhesives, concrete, shingles, paint, caulk, resins, epoxies, and other construction materials need additional protection during cold weather construction. Winter safety also includes keeping these materials at proper temperatures for application. Failing to protect critical materials could result in shoddy work that affects the overall finished product.  

protect critical construction materials

Powerblanket Winter Construction Solutions

We know that shutting down for the “off season” is a financially risky proposition. With Powerblanket, there is no off season. We specialize in providing winter construction crews with the tools they need to get back to work.

bulk material warmers

Hot boxes are ideal for cold weather construction safety, freeze protection, transporting, job site heating, remote location use, and winter roofing. Standard Hot Boxes hold product between 100°F and 120°F (38°C and 49°C) –optional adjustable thermostatic controllers allow precise temperature control. They are quick and easy to assemble and transport from job site to job site. Heat and protect a wide variety of container shapes and sizes. Access doors on 2 sides provide you with easy access to your materials whenever you need them. 

Powerblanket enables construction crews to take back control during the winter and get back on schedule. Protect expensive equipment, reduce wintertime waste, keep your workers safe, and keep operations running with Powerblanket. We also specialize in custom requests and quickly assess your needs and find the perfect temperature control products for you.

Contact us to find winter construction solutions for your needs 855.385.8516 or [email protected]

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