What Is Civil Construction? A Complete Guide

Published Categorized as Infrastructure
Water Dam

Civil construction shapes the world around us since it is responsible for most of the public structures. The structures range from walkway construction to massive bridges and wastewater treatment centers and dams.

Civil construction is a branch of civil engineering involved in the design, maintenance, and construction of environments like water reservoirs, roads, and bridges. Other projects that fall under civil construction are sewer systems, railways, tunnels, subdivisions, and dams.

Throughout this article, you will learn the following important information regarding civil construction:

  • Introduction to civil construction
  • The different stages in civil construction
  • Factors to consider when planning a civil construction project
  • Heavy civil construction
  • Common projects that fall under civil construction
  • Work performed under civil construction
  • How construction companies can succeed in civil construction projects
  • The future of civil construction

Understanding Civil Construction

Civil construction projects fall under the umbrella of civil engineering instead of falling under general construction. This is because the projects require extensive planning and coordination between different design specialists and engineers before commencing any construction project. Civil construction experts do much more than build structures.

In addition to building projects, civil construction contractors are also responsible for managing natural environments like hillsides, water reservoirs, mountain ridges, and other areas that intertwine with human-made infrastructure projects. Before bidding on civil construction projects, contractors must ensure that they have a thorough understanding of access rights, erosion control, grading, legal regulations, and public impact.

The civil construction industry has many players, including companies, individuals, and other parties interested in planning, designing, and creating various infrastructures. Civil engineers have created the infrastructure that we use in our day-to-day lives. These infrastructures include harbors, railways, roads, stadiums, schools, and other important buildings.

Civil Construction Stages

It is common for contractors to divide large civil construction projects into different stages, whether for joint or independent construction. Taking every stage of civil construction as an individual contract helps to escalate the progress of construction projects. Different civil construction projects follow different schedules and patterns.

Contractors often analyze and evaluate every stage’s duration to ensure that they maintain the ideal quality of work throughout the construction process. Every stage of a civil construction project has its own time within which its implementation should be complete.Engineers have to evaluate every stage of a civil construction project. Constant evaluation helps to ensure that a project is completed within the set period. Civil construction contractors often schedule a timeline for every stage in the construction project. They will then inspect and examine the project as per their schedules. Some of the common stages involved in a civil construction project are:

Conception Stage

Normally, the conception of projects starts with the project owner. This is where the dream starts. It involves determining the right location for a project and the ideal standards and specifications to be followed during construction. The conception stage may vary depending on the project taking between several days and several months.

Designing Stage

Just like the name suggests, this stage entails creating a layout of the project based on the local authorities and government’s parameters. The project design is still a preliminary stage, and there are no guarantees at this point. The bidding process begins at the design stage. The team in charge of project design must ensure that they adhere to all the set codes and regulations.

Within the design stage, there are four main steps:

  • Feasibility and programming – The feasibility and programming stage entails outlining all the goals and objectives of the project. Contractors have to make important decisions at this stage, including how to use the available space and how big the building should be, among other considerations.
  • Systematic design – The systematic design indicates the space, colors, materials, and even textures to be adopted in the construction project.
  • Design development – This design will come in handy during the research of the equipment needed and how big the building will be. This will help the contractors to determine the materials required for the construction and the accompanying costs.
  • Contract documents – The contract documents come last when everything is being finalized. The contract documents contain the final specifications and drawings of the project. People placing bids on the project will rely on the project documents.

Pre-Construction Stage

The pre-construction stage entails listing several professionals and contractors for the project completion. The professionals include contract administrator, project manager, and site engineer, among others. Another important task during this stage is site examination. The project team works in close collaboration with the contractor.

Procurement Stage

This is an integral stage that involves the procurement of the necessary resources for the construction project. After making all the necessary plans, the project team orders and obtains the necessary materials, equipment, and workforce. This stage’s complexity will vary depending on the complexity of a construction project and the availability of resources.

Construction Stage

A pre-construction meeting occurs before the commencement of the construction work. The construction meeting aims to ensure that everyone understands their role and that all players are on the same page when the construction begins.During the meeting, workers receive their schedules. Other important information discussed includes how to access the site.

Post Construction Stage

The post-construction stage is all about inspecting the project or the building to ensure that it is ready for its intended use. During this stage, all the construction work is complete, and the project will soon end. The project team also conducts a post-project review to ensure that all tasks were completed as intended.

Factors to Consider When Planning a Civil Construction Project

The factors that contractors consider when planning a civil construction project will vary depending on the type of civil project involved. Below are some of the considerations to make when implementing specific civil construction projects:

Water Construction Project

A water project requires construction with the highest perfection and care. While handling water projects, contractors must have several factors in mind. The factors include constructing the spillways and the controls, site dissipating, building the dam structure, and pumping house connections.

Contractors must also have in mind the establishment of the plant of water treatment and adding in transmission lines and construction tunnels.

Highway Project

While handling a highway project, some of the important factors that contractors have to consider are dissipating the project site and locating the plant for the project site. Contractors must also establish drainage and construct pavement structures.

Other important factors are underground work, mainly the earthwork for the highway embankment. Contractors must also focus on the proper placement of road signs, signals, and lights.

Heavy Civil Construction

Due to the complicated nature of their logistics, most civil construction projects are often over-scheduled and over budget. It is common for civil construction projects to come to a halt when the budget goes above the projected budget.

One such project is the nuclear power station in South Carolina. The project was one of the largest and most expensive construction projects in the United States’ history. However, the project was above the intended budget.

Numerous civil construction projects encounter these problems due to the complexity of building or designing massive structures. Public structures have many stakeholders, and it is hard to coordinate all of them into a common goal.

The heavy civil construction sector will always be intricate and provide constant challenges to contractors. However, there are limitless growth opportunities as long as the participants are pro-active. Besides, it is rewarding and fulfilling to build the infrastructure that our world relies on.

It is even more rewarding when the infrastructural development comes at little or no cost to the people who reap the benefits from the projects.

Civil project contractors’ aim should be to keep their projects within the set limits of time and cost. Contractors should also upgrade their company’s approach to collaboration and technology to ensure that they win more deals. Improving the approach to civil construction project implementation benefits not only the contractors but also the community for many years to come.

Common Projects Handled Under Civil Construction

The construction of many public structures like public libraries and civil halls falls under civil construction. Heavy civil construction entails taking construction and design to another level. Some of the common projects that fall under the heavy civil construction sector are:

  • Construction of bridges – Civil construction projects range from the construction of basic roadway crossings to the replacement of massive bridges.
  • Railroads – This includes the construction of tracks for light rail, streetcar systems, and high-speed rail tracks, which have been growing in popularity in different regions.
  • Construction of roadways ranging from simple residential streets to intricate tunnels and overpasses.
  • River and canal stabilization projects and welding projects for recreational and shipping goals.
  • Construction of wastewater treatment plans, including settlement ponds, holding tanks, and other essential structures.
  • Construction of earthwork projects, including re-shaping areas prone to floods, capping landfills and constructing new levees.
  • Constructing ports, airports, and other advanced transportation hubs.

In many countries, roads, bridges, tunnels, and other infrastructure projects encounter unforeseen challenges and hurdles, often creating unforeseen schedule and cost overruns. The overruns affect the construction companies and other important players in addition to burdening the construction companies, delays in building and fixing infrastructure burden the public, the taxpayers, who need to use these facilities.

Countries cannot do without civil construction. Poorly designed and constructed civil projects often lead to lost time during commutes. Overcrowded airports and busy roads cost the average household a sizable income every year. Aging infrastructure impacts everyone negatively in the community. Dangerous bridges and poorly maintained roads can damage private vehicles and public transportation.

For instance, in the United States, motorists spend an estimated $112 billion every year on vehicle repairs due to poor road conditions. Congestion due to lack of new roads leads to high fuel wastage every year. Civil construction helps enrich the community in which people live and work. Communities with good infrastructure attract more business, which further drives the need for additional civil construction projects.

Work Performed Under Civil Construction

There are numerous tasks performed within the civil construction industry. Most of the tasks revolve around planning, maintenance, and creation of public infrastructure. Most civil construction tasks seek to make the lives of people easier.

Other common tasks in the construction industry include:

  • Creating contracts and cost estimates
  • Complying with the guidelines put in place by the government, clients, and local bodies while planning and maintaining public infrastructure
  • Hiring and tendering contracts
  • Evaluating, studying, and investigating land and building sites ideal for the creation of infrastructure
  • Liaising with clients, government, and other professionals
  • Monitoring and supervising the construction of infrastructure to ensure that it is in line with the plan

How Construction Companies Can Succeed in Civil Construction Projects

Construction companies can succeed in civil construction projects in several ways. Construction contractors have to invest in creating new techniques to help them handle civil projects efficiently and effectively. Some of the strategies for increasing success in civil construction companies are:

Establish Public-Private Partnerships

In many civil construction projects, external contractors and subcontractors have always played an important role. With the emergence of public-private partnerships, external contractors are getting more involved. The public-private partnerships (P3) allow state and federal bodies to authorize civil projects financed and managed by private companies and not just public sectors.Around 35 states in the U.S. allow the P3 arrangement, and many other states are considering changing their laws regarding public-private partnerships.

Create Civil Projects With Low Tax Investment

Even if many people understand the importance of civil projects, many are unwilling to contribute higher taxes to boost the projects. For instance, many residents would want to have good roads, but they are not willing to pay additional taxes. This is the reason why the p3 structure is gaining immense popularity. This arrangement enhances infrastructural development with little or no additional taxes to the taxpayers.

Some examples of successful civil construction projects that did not require citizens to contribute more taxes include Maryland’s I-270 expressway project. This project involved the widening of the four toll lanes and had an estimated cost of $9billion. However, the project did cost the Maryland residents $0 in tax additions.

There is a trend of private investors financing civil construction projects. The private investors receive payment through a percentage of the collected tolls. The remaining tolls go to the state, and this helps create a steady source of new income.

Explore and Embrace Digital Technology

Heavy civil construction projects are much more complicated than other forms of construction. Local contractors can keep everyone on the same page by embracing the latest digital technologies. While completing a civil construction project, a large team of subcontractors and different professionals are involved. Therefore, without advanced digital technology, it can be challenging to keep all the players at par.

Using the ideal collaboration technology for the construction industry helps to seal information gaps and prevent communication breakdown. Contactors can embrace software that depends on the cloud to store all the relevant meeting notes, plans, documents, and other pertinent information. Having the same storage point for information allows everyone to access information whenever they need it.

Timely and efficient communication while implementing a civil construction project helps to prevent delays and enhances the completion of the project. Efficient communication also allows everyone in the construction team to stay within the budget and to identify and correct mistakes before they get out of hand.

Improve the Internal Processes

When optimizing the contractor’s approach to civil construction projects, contractors should not stop at communication and collaboration software. There are numerous ways of simplifying the site prep and design without the need to invest in advanced equipment. One of the tools that make construction projects much easier is geotagging. Geotagging has been available for years and helps to show the exact place where photos were taken.Contractors require unique visual markers while laying out roads, bridges, and other structures. Without these markers, it can be challenging to determine where a progress photo or video was captured. Geotagged and GPS-linked photos help contractors to identify the specific placement of access points and structures. With this technology, construction experts make fewer mistakes during the construction process.

Here is a video on how to use geotagging in the field:


The Future of Civil Construction

What is the future of civil construction projects? It is expected that heading to 2021 and 2022, and civil engineers will experience significant growth in employment opportunities. Here are some of the new trends in the construction industry. More and more civil construction experts will be required to rebuild and manage civil projects like dams, roads, and other buildings.

Final Thoughts

Civil construction is a section of the broader construction industry. It mainly focuses on the construction of core infrastructure, including water treatment systems, sewers, roads, bridges, and highways. Civil construction helps to solve society’s problems through the application of physical and scientific principles.

Construction engineers have to be cautious while handling civil construction projects because they engage in business-like transactions. The transactions include reviewing contracts, monitoring prices of supplies, and evaluating operation efficiencies.


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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