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Why Do Highway & Road Repairs Take So Long?

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Highway Road Repairs Take so Long construction years delay cones safety workers

Our society is all about speed. The faster you can accomplish something, the better. Food service is faster, internet is faster, cars are faster, and children are growing up faster. But, one thing stands in stark contrast to the rapidity of the rest of our life: highway construction.

It can take multiple years to repave or widen even a small stretch of road, and a lot of the time when you drive by, it looks like none of the workers are doing anything.

Why in the world do road repairs take so long?


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Reasons why road repairs take so long

  • Slow and steady: Roadwork crews work under the philosophy that working slowly, carefully, and methodically is much safer and less disruptive than rushing the work as quickly as possible.
  • Financial issues: When a crew puts in a bid and gets contracted to do a job, the government doesn’t pay them the entire amount up-front. So, if payments aren’t made on-time or funding falls through, work halts until the next check clears.
  • It’s not just pavement: Working on a road goes below the surface, and involves attending to drainage inlets, curbs, reflectors, stripes, guard rails, etc. Plus, the pavement has to be very precisely leveled and even between lanes, so the work can’t be sloppy.
  • One lane at a time: If two adjacent lanes are being resurfaced in a five-mile stretch, that’s not five miles of resurfacing. That’s 10.
  • Crossing the bridge: Roadwork will take exponentially more time if they cross over a bridge, making construction and repaving far more complicated and limited.

Construction Worker Stop

  • Watch the weather: If it’s too cold or wet outside to pave, then progress halts. Even if the forecast is bad, crews may delay work to avoid getting drenched mid-task. And if storms dirty up their progress, they’ll have to spend time cleaning before continuing.
  • Finicky equipment: The large machinery used in construction probably isn’t brand new, so its age combined with its condition means that it could take workers extra time to get the equipment to cooperate.
  • Waiting on the boss: Before crews can move from one step onto the next, they often need to have a certified higher-up inspect and approve of the progress. However, there isn’t an abundance of these experts available throughout a state, so a lot of time can be waiting for the boss to show up and sign off.
  • Labor laws and cost: While we’d all like for construction workers to work 24/7 until the work is done, dangerous manual labor jobs have strict regulations and cost a ton of money if overtime is incorporated. Thus, with the government allotting minimal funding to such jobs, it is often cheaper to work shorter days over a longer period than long days with lots of overtime.

So, while a job could technically be completed in a month or two, any or all of these factors extend that time frame to a large part of a decade.


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Sources: The Washington Post, Virginia DOT