7 Reasons Why Road Work Takes So Long

Published Categorized as Infrastructure
Road Work

There’s nothing more frustrating than having to take detours on your morning commute, especially when it seems like you’ve had to do it forever. Road work is all too common in cities all across the country. As frustrating as it is, it’s necessary to keep the roads safe for your vehicle, but why does it take so long?

Here are 7 reasons why road work takes so long:

  1. Some work is easier to do at night.
  2. Utility companies need to move their facilities.
  3. Installing drainage facilities is time-consuming.
  4. Median retaining walls need to be built.
  5. The concrete pavement needs time to cure.
  6. Workers need to install other parts.
  7. Striping the roadway needs more than one coat.

In this article, I’ll further explain each of these reasons, and you’ll finish reading with a deeper understanding of the amount of work that has to go into repairing and building roads.

1. Some Work Is Easier To Do at Night

Traffic is generally much less congested at night, giving workers a little more flexibility during their shift. However, they still need to be careful because nighttime also commonly comes with faster or impaired drivers.

Working at night also allows workers not to worry about delays due to traffic.

Beyond that, there are specific parts of the job that are more practical to do at night. For example, raising new highway signs or street lights is much easier when there’s less traffic on the road.

With that said, it’s crucial to respect night shift workers while you’re on the road. For starters, don’t use your brights/floodlights unless it’s foggy outside. Using them unnecessarily can temporarily impair the workers’ vision and put them in danger.

Also, if you know there is active road work in a particular area, it’s essential to follow the same road rules as you would during the day. If there are flaggers, follow their directions and be mindful of speed limits to keep workers safe.

2. Utility Companies Need To Move Their Facilities

During the road construction project, the person in charge overseeing construction needs to coordinate with whichever utility companies have jurisdiction in the area they’re working. There may be underground pipes or electrical lines that need to be removed before the construction can begin.

Beyond that, utility companies may also need to participate actively if their field of work is part of the project.

This work may include raising light poles on the highway or installing traffic lights on city streets. It’s also necessary for construction to heed this step because failing to do so may mean they burst an underground gas line.

Depending on the results of an initial utility inspection, the road construction timeline may need to extend. If gas, electrical, or water lines need relocating, this can potentially add weeks or months to a construction project.

3. Installing Drainage Facilities Is Time-Consuming

On top of working with utility companies, installing proper road drainage facilities can be time-consuming too.

The main purpose of a road drainage system is to help prevent the road from flooding.

There are two parts of a road drainage system: dewatering and drainage. The dewatering aspect of the system removes rainwater from the surface of the road. The drainage, on the other hand, consists of the infrastructure that keeps the road dry.

The pavement, or the top layer of the road, essentially works as a waterproof barrier for the infrastructure underneath.

Side ditches also need to be dug to catch water and let it absorb back into the ground. However, ditches aren’t always necessary. For city roadwork, it’s easier to rely on nearby sewer and water grates.

If a side ditch is necessary, an outlet ditch is likely also needed for proper drainage, which are side ditches for the side ditch. Their job is to lead water away from the side ditch and into an existing watering system.

The emptying system is typically a natural body of water or a sewer.

The drainage system may also need a culvert to help lead water to a sewage system or waterway. A culvert is a special pipe that connects to underground channels.

Regardless of the drainage system needed for a specific area, multiple layers need building, and each layer needs time to settle before moving on.

4. Median Retaining Walls Need To Be Built

Median retaining walls are crucial for highway construction, as they separate ramps from middle lanes, and they also separate traffic patterns. Although traffic could operate without them, median walls are much safer as drivers can see them better than a line in the road.

These concrete walls are also necessary as a temporary safety measure during construction projects. Although they tack time onto a specific project, a concrete median wall is more effective at keeping highway construction workers safe than an orange barrel.

5. The Concrete Pavement Needs Time To Cure

Once the “pre-construction” tasks finish, the actual laying of concrete pavement begins. Laying pavement is typically the longest part of the process as there are four different layers of concrete needed before workers can mark it as complete:

  • Sub-grade: The sub-grade is the layer of native soil that lies underneath the other three layers. Making sure this part is level is integral in pouring a level concrete slab. Because of this, completing this step can take a long time.
  • Sub-base: The sub-base is the layer of aggregate materials that are placed on top of the sub-grade. This level may also consist of gravel or other crushed-up recycled materials.
  • Base course: The base course is the level poured directly on top of the gravel or other materials in the sub-grade. This layer consists of similar materials to the sub-grade. However, it’s typically mixed with soil before it’s poured.
  • Surface course: The surface course is the outermost layer of the road. It’s most commonly made of concrete or asphalt and serves as the waterproof layer of the highway or city street.

6. Workers Need To Install Other Parts

After the concrete or asphalt has time to dry, there may be other parts that workers need to install before finishing. Exit signs or mile markers may need to go up if it’s a highway job, or stoplights and other light posts may need to be installed on a city street.

Depending on the amount of traffic the area sees, the timeline of this part of the process may be a simple one-shift job.

However, a heavily trafficked area may require multiple shifts to complete this step.

7. Striping the Roadway Needs More Than One Coat

Finally, the central part of the construction is complete. But wait, there are still signs that mark the road as closed. Although this can certainly be annoying to see, there’s a reason those signs and barricades haven’t disappeared yet.

Before road construction can be marked complete, it needs striping.

In some instances, a road may only need one coat. However, they often need more than one coat as construction shifts to different parts of the road. As construction shifts, the stripes on the road need to move along with it.

However, once construction finishes and stripes are laid, you’re finally free to resume your regular commute. Of course, you may have picked up an entirely new route during all the time it took for the construction to finish.


By Giovanni Valle

Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.

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