Road Construction Gamble: Construction Season Kicks Off Early

Published: Mar. 7, 2016 at 9:06 PM CST
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Eastern Iowans might not see flowers blooming just yet, but orange construction cones are popping up in many places.

The temperatures across eastern Iowa are expected to be above normal this week, so road crews are taking advantage of it and getting an early start on their projects.

Weather, however, could still hamper construction work that's already underway in Cedar Rapids.

Over the past 10 years, the average amount of snow Cedar Rapids has received in March is about three inches. The latest snowfall in March was on the 29th back in 2009. That's when the city received 4.5 inches. The city has also got snow in April several times in the past decade.

Contractors and city engineers are keeping an eye to the sky.

"It's most definitely a gamble. We try and make sure that the work that is going on during these periods - these early periods when it is more of a gamble - is a little less disruptive. It offers the contractors the ability to pull off the site, and we don’t have the disruption to the traffic,” said Cedar Rapids City Engineer Nathan Kampman.

“We start off with the less intrusive things, like utilities along the edge of the road, where the roadway can stay open still,” said Paving for Progress Program Manager Doug Wilson.

Crews are even more cautious about weather because construction season is starting earlier than normal this year.

"It usually starts about the beginning of April. The weather just happens to be favorable right now. We have had some warm temperatures. The frost has been getting out of the ground,” Wilson said.

"Also we are expecting to have a lot of work out this year, and contractors starting early on the work that they already have will give them the opportunity to bid on more work later on,” Kampman said.

Workers are already making progress on First Avenue, West Post Road and 42nd Street Northeast, to name a few.

The city said snow can be a big concern as contractors dig into the ground in early March, but they are prepared.

"Say we had a blizzard and got a lot of snow in one time, we'd work with the contractor to get that off so that we wouldn't damage the equipment that's out there or the traffic control and, yet, get the snow cleared,” Wilson said.

City engineers are hoping for nice weather because there's a list of dozens of projects funded with sales tax dollars for this construction season. Many of those will be more intensive, reconstruction projects, meaning this early start is the beginning of a busy construction season.

"It's exciting, very exciting, for the city to start tackling some of these roadways but more challenging for everyone involved,” Wilsons said.

The city said contractors have early and late start dates on their contracts for road work, meaning they have a window of time they can kick off that project. Engineers said the earliest time frame listed on contracts is the beginning of March even though most don't typically start until April.