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PennDOT Halts Work on Infrastructure Projects

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

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Last Tuesday (March 17), the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission ordered all contractors to cease work on current projects for a minimum of two weeks.

According to reports, Pennsylvania is the first state in the nation to suspend infrastructure-based construction as a result of the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

Halting Construction

The pause in construction follows state Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to extend the shutdown of all non-essential businesses to all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Currently, the decision is expected to be effective until the end of March, but is under constant review for potential changes.

The Engineering News-Record reports that the only project to carry over after the order was the removal of traffic maintenance stage equipment from a Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnel renovation project.

Thomas Northcut / Getty Images

Last Tuesday (March 17), the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission ordered all contractors to cease work on current projects for a minimum of two weeks.

In addition to halting construction, the Department has closed all district offices, motorist licensing offices and welcome centers. However, the Turnpike and PennDOT will continue to provide emergency repair maintenance as needed.

Toll roads have also continued to remain open, but only through the use of electronic payment systems.

PennDOT spokesperson, Alexis Campbell, adds that, “Projects that were in progress are being inspected to make sure everything is secured, and that there are no dangers to travelers.”

Although, Campbell adds that it is unclear how the halted projects will be affected regarding their contracted completion schedules, incentives and penalties. She concludes that the Department will be “in touch with industry and will figure out the best way forward.”

While the decision has been credited as the only state to take such measures against the spread of COVID-19, Executive Vice President of the Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, Robert Latham, hopes that the state will reconsider as the halt directly affects workers and the unemployment compensation system.

“We know PennDOT appreciates that the shutdown order has placed a $2.2 billion industry on hold,” said Latham. “If it appears that construction operations can be safely resumed, I’m hopeful they’ll do that sooner than later.”

In a statement on March 19, Acting PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian provided an update on where the Department stood:

  • Following a precautionary closure of all rest areas we have opened some amenities at 13 along critical routes most used by trucks;
  • We stopped construction projects to quickly minimize exposure for both PennDOT and private-sector employees. We are actively working closely with our industry partners to find innovative, collaborative, and safe solutions for how these activities can eventually resume with safety at the forefront;
  • At each stage of our closure of driver and vehicle in-person services, we have extended deadlines where possible and ensured that many common services remain available online; and
  • We've been communicating closely with and supporting our transit partners as they navigate adjusting schedules and services.

For more detailed information and ongoing operational changes, PennDOT has posted a PennDOT Coronavirus FAQ page.

Other Construction Measures

Also last week, Boston announced a 14-day construction activities ban amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision—made by Mayor Martin Walsh—was put into effect after the city reported that 33 people had been infected with the virus.

All projects—regardless of size—are stopped in the city except for what the Mayor called “emergency projects,” such as:

  • emergency utility, road or building work, such as gas leaks, water leaks and sinkholes;
  • new utility connections to occupied buildings;
  • mandated building or utility work;
  • work at public health facilities, healthcare facilities, shelters, including temporary shelters and other facilities that support vulnerable populations;
  • work which ensures the reliability of the transportation network; and
  • other work necessary to render occupied residential buildings fully habitable.

The city will also evaluate projects on a case-by-case basis for exceptions, such as support for public health and safety.

CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, Stephen E. Sandherr, spoke out against outright shutdowns of construction, issuing a statement saying that shutting down construction projects is an unnecessary step.

“Halting construction activity will do more harm than good for construction workers, community residents and the economy,” he said. “Construction firms are already acting to ensure the safety and health of their employees in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. These new measures, which include increased hygiene and halting group gatherings of staff, are in addition to the fact construction workers already wear protective equipment, including gloves that will help protect them and their co-workers."

The National Roofing Contractors Association also wrote a letter, this time to President Donald Trump, to express concerns over what are defined as “essential businesses” and “essential workers” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

   

Tagged categories: Building operations; Business operations; Construction; Contractors; COVID-19; General contractors; Government; Health and safety; Industrial Contractors; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Subcontractors

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