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May 28

Detours, Barricades, and Traffic Cones

Posted on May 28, 2019 at 12:26 PM by Melinda Mayo

Most everyone hates the disruption that construction projects cause, whether the project is in our homes, our places of work, or our city.  Yet such projects are necessary to fix what is broken, grow or expand to meet new opportunities, or give new or extended life to an aging structure or facility.  In the case of our city, these construction projects are often essential for our well-being and economic success.

Many Projects, Many Partners

At any given time, our city is likely to have streets, water lines, storm sewers, gas lines, sidewalks, or buildings under construction. Locations of current Public Works Capital Improvement Projects are shown on this map. In some instances, essentially all of these will be under construction at the same time in the same area.  Many of these projects are partnerships between different entities including the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Western  Virginia Water Authority, Roanoke Gas, Appalachian Electric Power and, of course, the City of Roanoke. Though at times it may seem otherwise to those that live alongside one of these projects, the combining of projects actually is less disruptive in the long run and much less costly than if each project were done separately.  This type of coordination takes a great deal of planning and cooperation well before any actual work begins, and involves any number of elected officials, appointed boards, and others.

Public Work, Private Workers

One of the most misunderstood aspects of public construction projects is that very little of the work performed is done by public employees--be they City, Water Authority, or VDOT workers.  The days of major construction projects being performed by public employees ended long ago as a part of privatization efforts that swept the nation beginning in the 1980’s, the thinking being that private companies would deliver such projects faster and more cost effectively.  In general, this system works well. But it does require an understanding that while the “owner” of the project sets the overall timeline—how long a project will be allowed to take or how many total days the contractor has to complete the work—the contractor establishes how the work will be performed on a daily basis. The contractor, not the owner, decides how many people will be on-site at a given time and what work will be performed each day.  An owner can shorten the time allowed for a project, but it will come with a cost, which sometimes is prohibitive and thus not a viable option.  The reality is that, with but a few exceptions, once a construction project begins it is “owned” by the contractor hired to complete the work and the City or Water Authority or VDOT have little to say about the daily work conducted on the project.

Worth it in the End

Though a nuisance for what seems like an unbearable length of time for some, these projects are worth it in the end. Timely projects help keep our streets safe, maintain property values, ensure our drinking water, gas, and electric remain safe and reliable, and eliminate flooding hazards.  It may seem like there are a great deal of projects going on, and there are. And it may seem like the projects take a long time, and some do. In the end, our city and your neighborhood will be better for it.

As this work is underway, please remember to be alert around construction sites and help keep everyone safe!

-- Bob Cowell


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