How does rain - and I mean the kind of rain we've gotten recently, and are likely to get through the weekend - impact highway construction projects?
Well, that depends on the project. Because the question is asked so frequently, let's go through some answers. Before we dive into details, though, let's get something clear right away:
Adverse weather does not typically delay the overall completion of a project. When a project schedule an overall completion date is estimated, we take into account the chance of poor weather.
The greatest impact is on our dirt work. This means excavation for drain boxes or utility lines. As one can imagine, digging out a sound hole in order to form and lay a stable utility system or a quality drain system is difficult when dirt becomes mud.
The other thing it stops us from doing is the excavation of the actual roadway. Beneath the asphalt is several inches - feet, actually - of different materials. There are several layers of asphalt, then a layer of oil and rock (seal coat), and under that some layers of various dirt materials. We call it "subgrade", and it acts as a sure-footed foundation for the road.
When weather is this wet, though, we can't build the subgrade. We really can't cut the road path, either. Kind of - here it is - puts a damper on our work.
We also can't lay asphalt, and we can't paint road markers.
So ... what can we do?
We can construct the steel-frame supports that strengthen our concrete structures - like bridges, and retaining walls, and sidewalks or curbs. We can set the forms that shape these structures. And, when safe to do so (we don't want to have our guys slipping on surfaces with poor footing), we can actually pour concrete. The means bridge work can generally continue - provided conditions are safe - and we can build curbs, sidewalks and retaining walls. We can also build the concrete skirts you see around bridge bases designed to help minimize erosion at the structures.
And that's it. That's what we can do. We can install highway signs and clean the roadway as well, which we do a fair job at!
The biggest thing we depend on during this sort of weather is you - the driver. We depend on drivers staying safe and making smart driving decisions with the wet roads. Safety is always our top priority!