Cottonwoods floating on the breeze while irrigation ditches are filling. You smell the fresh cut grass while listening to the sound of sprinklers swish, swish, swishing. These gentle nudges to our senses send signals to our bodies. Spring is here. With spring comes a parallel season here in Idaho— “road construction season.”
Here at Keep It Local Idaho, we get it. We know what it’s like to drive slowly through a road construction zone and wonder, “why is this project taking so long?” We understand “road construction season” is difficult especially when you have a bunch of kids in the car on a summer road trip.
Why Does It Take So Long?
You may be wondering, why does so much road construction occur during peak travel periods? We reached out to Mike Arneson with J-U-B Engineers, Inc. (an Idaho-based civil engineering firm) to help us understand why some road projects seem to take so long. Mike Arneson, P.E. leads the firm’s Transportation Services Group. Arneson shares some of the main variables that may affect the duration of the road and bridge project construction timeframe in Idaho.
First, most of Idaho has significant variations in weather through the calendar year. Several of the roadway and bridge construction items such as asphalt paving, concrete pouring, and many others require certain temperatures, to ensure quality and durability. For example, asphalt paving requires a temperature of 40 degrees and rising before placement. In many areas of Idaho, paving between October and March is just not possible due to weather. The weather limitations in Idaho can result in construction projects taking two years instead of one year.
Second, many of the transportation projects in Idaho occur on busy roadways with a lot of traffic. During construction, the traffic needs to continue to flow. Maintaining traffic while the construction is in progress normally slows down the construction progress significantly. Safely maintaining traffic through construction zones has a substantial impact on the efficiency and duration of the construction timeframe. This is particularly the case in more urban and high-volume traffic areas and not as much of a concern in rural/lower volume locations.
Third, sensitive environmental constraints effect many Idaho transportation projects. These constraints can have a significant impact on construction timelines. One example is what we call “in water work windows.” These windows are time periods allowed by regulatory agencies, for example the US Army Corps of Engineers, to work within the water of a stream or river for bridge construction. Due to sensitive fish species, sometimes the construction is only allowed to impact the flowing water for a few weeks or a couple months. These projects frequently require two construction seasons so all of the in-water work can be completed while complying with permitting.
The next time you travel through a construction zone, consider the many variables affecting that road project. Perhaps, you’ll be more tolerant of the short-term inconvenience and have a greater appreciation for all of the planning and hard work that go into creating safe, local roads.