COVID-19 and Transportation Construction: Part 1 - The New Normal
by Paul Schmitz, on Jun 3, 2020 11:15:00 AM
This eight-part series discusses the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on transportation construction and the importance of investing in infrastructure to help rebuild the economy. These weekly Q&A sessions will be with leading experts in the transportation industry including government agencies, engineering & design firms, contractors, material suppliers and industry associations.
As businesses are pivoting in response to COVID-19, “new normals” are beginning to emerge across the construction industry. Although some of these new actions are more common across the board (i.e. working from home and increased sanitation measures) others could vary greatly depending upon the role a business or agency plays in public construction. This week we spotlight what the new normal looks like from various perspectives. Although this is only a snapshot of our discussion, the full conversation can be found in our eBook, "The New Normal."
We asked our panelists, "What are some examples of the “New Normal” business environment for your organization?" Below are a few of the responses:
- Bill Lawrence (Materials and Pavements Manager – Utah DOT): Teleworking was a statewide initiative that was going to roll out in May, which included being done under measurable objectives. COVID-19 pushed it to all who could a lot sooner, with measurable objectives to be developed later. I anticipate seeing this teleworking being here to stay.
- Michael Mangione (Senior Vice President – WSP USA): WSP has pivoted to a near full remote operation and we have leveraged multiple platforms to accomplish the increased virtual meetings and collaboration. We have seen a great sense of collaboration and team since the COVID work from home has begun. WSP has also increased the focus on our employees’ health and well-being, employee morale, mental health, mentoring/relationships and regular team and individual check-ins. The health of our team and our clients will remain the most important element of these operations.
- Randell Iwasaki (Executive Director – Contra Costa Transportation Authority): CCTA’s POP “progress on paperless” program has been very successful – we’ve even had a few articles written about us! What started as a simple idea to reduce the number of paper agendas printed for Board meetings has snowballed into a larger paperless initiative that includes electronic signatures, online bidding for construction projects, electronic inspection and records on projects, moving our daily office operations to the cloud, etc. In our business continuity plan, we’re working to identify what we need to ensure that our small team has the ability to be nimble and effective in a variety of circumstances. Our “new normal” includes a fully remote workforce, virtual public board and committee meetings, and re-thinking how we engage the public and our stakeholders on the work being planned, or in progress. We are investigating on a remote workplace concept to save money on building rental, etc.
- David Lawry (Past APWA President and Director of Municipal Services for Chastain and Associates): We understand the younger generations appreciate a remote working option with their employment. I believe baby boomers have been slow to react to this desire. CVD-19 has shown remote work can be productive and can be managed effectively. I expect a new norm will be remote working opportunities for many staff.
We also asked, "From your firm’s perspective, how has the CVD-19 pandemic changed the construction environment?" Here are a few insights:
- Nick Goldstein (VP of Regulatory Affairs – American Road & Transportation Builders Association - ARTBA): The first issue for the industry was making sure industry firms could continue working. Above all, this required contractors adding COVID-19 prevention protocols to their safety procedures. Guidance issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) designated public works construction as essential and, with the urging of ARTBA and our state chapter affiliates, most governors followed suit. It is also important to note that transportation construction is distinct from other forms of construction in that transportation contractors generally work in open air and are better positioned to comply with social distancing than other sectors. Our contractors also answer to public agencies who own the projects, as opposed to private developers. There has been a degree of good news as some states have been able to accelerate projects because of lower traffic volumes. The industry is now grappling with uncertainty over federal and state transportation revenues and construction programs to varying degrees across the states. ARTBA supports short-term support for state departments of transportation (DOTs) in addition to a full re-authorization of the federal surface transportation program as part of our nation's recovery from COVID-19.
- Michael Mangione (Senior Vice President – WSP USA): There have been many impacts to construction as a result of CVD-19. The need for additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and appropriate safe distancing on-site as well as new coordination and work practices have been implemented. It is still early to be determined whether this will result in productivity gains or losses. Some states have temporarily stopped or slowed construction work while others have accelerated projects due to lower traffic volumes and decreased congestion by extending hours of work and increasing lane usage. Obviously, client program funding will be the biggest question moving forward.
How has COVID-19 impacted transportation construction? We have the full discussion from our expert panelists, including lessons learned and preparation advice in our eBook, "The New Normal." This free resource shares all the insights covering these following key areas:
- Immediate and long-term implications for transportation construction
- Funding for public infrastructure
- Lessons learned
- Key takeaways and action steps to prepare for possible stimulus funding
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