Why does our road construction take so long?

11:21 PM, Jan 23, 2014   |    comments
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The city is Dallas - the project: the High Five: an intricate interchange built twelve stories above two of the city's biggest and most congested highways.  The project started in 2002 and wrapped 13 months ahead of its 60 month schedule.

Cut to 2009, the Florida Department of Transportation initiates its own major project - taking US-19 through Clearwater and Largo from a small, traffic signaled highway to a limited access pass through uniting north Pinellas and mid-Pinellas with twelve miles of uninterrupted travel. 

So, why do your roads take so much longer to complete?  One difference: Tex-Dot's Tony Hartzel says the Dallas High Five original budget included a hefty contractor incentive for early completion.

"It was important to us to look at how we could facilitate construction and keep it moving and get it done as quickly as possible," he said.

The original US-19 contract contains no contractor incentives.

"When the state was facing a significant amount of deficit, the department made the choice not to put incentives on contracts because, you know, money was tight," said Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad.

Governor Rick Scott recently announced a 4.8 million dollar budget increase in the US-19 project to expedite work by roughly six months...part of that is a 1.6 million dollar contractor incentive to finish on time with this new deadline.

"FDOT has worked with the contractor to speed up when we can get people off the service roads," he said.

Secretary Prasad says other major existing projects will now get similar consideration,  But, incentivizing isn't the only way to speed things along. 

FDOT Public Information Officer Kris Carson said, "In many of our contracts there are penalties called liquidated damages already written into them."

But even though many large FDOT project contracts do include some form of these, they can be circumvented by way of extensions which FDOT evaluates based on unforeseen circumstances.

And now, while plenty of Clearwater and Largo business owners are thrilled to hear US-19 will trouble them for six fewer months, the new incentive and elevated resource allotment is coming from you...the taxpayer.

Kris says the contractor is not responsible for covering these expedited construction costs because "what we're asking them to do is work more days, bring in more crews and more people, so we're going to have to reimburse them for that."

The up-side is, according to Secretary Prasad, incentives and dis-incentives function best hand in hand and will be making an FDOT comeback. 

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