Thursday, August 23, 2007

WBUR reports on Mass. Avenue construction

OMG. A very good report on Cambridge's Little Dig or Big Fuckup or
whatever the ongoing comedy may be called. This article understates
the delays. After years of sidewalk supervising I'm still confused
about whether there are two projects or one project, and whether any of
these projects is actually a city project.

I think there are or were two projects: reconstructing Mass. Avenue,
and rebuiliding the intersection of Mass. Avenue and Main Street, which
is Lafayette Square. The Lafayette Square project is certainly ten
years old. A single wonderful construction company is in charge the
entire craziness.

Construction Delays Drag Out
By Monica Brady-Myerov

Listen to story (Real Audio)

Jordy Yager
BOSTON, Mass - August 23, 2007 - Host Intro: Ahhh the sounds of summer.

(sound of trucks)

Summer construction that it. As the summer comes to an end,
construction on roads, bridges and sidewalks just seems to keep going
on and on. While we've been paying attention to falling bridges and
leaking tunnels, there's another problem on Massachusetts roads and
highways: Construction is taking forever.

Almost half the highway projects now under construction in this state
are behind schedule. Things have gotten so bad, even the state now
concedes that construction is taking much, much too long. Next month a
new state task force will start trying to find ways to speed things up.
WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov reports.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Orange construction barrels line parts of
Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge from Central Square to the Charles
River. Work to repave the road, redo the sidewalks and add trees
started three years ago this fall, when MIT professor Fred Moavenzedah
greeted a new class of freshmen. They're now about to become seniors,
but the Mass. Ave. project is only three-quarters complete. The delay
rankles Moanvenzedah, who runs MIT's Center for Construction Research
and Education.

FRED MOAVENZEDAH: This paving of this street could have been done in
less than 6 months rather than 3 years. Because it is a job that is
rather repetitious and they could have done it in 6 months if they had
put sufficient man power and equipment, day in day out night in night

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: The delays with repaving Mass Ave. are typical. A
WBUR analysis of Mass Highway statistics on its own website show that
43% of the road and highway projects in the construction phase are not
on time. And cost overruns on many projects cost taxpayers $30 million
dollars a year.

LOUISA PAIEWONSKY: We know that construction delays cost us money

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Highway Commissioner Louisa Paiewonsky.

LOUISA PAIEWONSKY: But I think it's fair to say while there are often
good reasons for construction delays including environmental, or work
permit restrictions or utility delays that doesn't mean we find that

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: The delays have gotten so bad that the new
transportation secretary is creating a construction streamlining task
force to ask designers, engineers and contractors how to get things
moving faster.

Excuses about the weather and the need to keep roads open while work is
being done don't account for all the problems, according to
construction experts. First, the cash flow is constantly interrupted,
says John Pourbaix executive director of Construction Industries of
Massachusetts, which represents construction companies.

JOHN POURBAIX: The state can't afford to pay the overtime. They are
putting contracts on limited budget that you can only perform so much
work over a period of time or contracts are stopped because they are
burning thru cash a little quicker than they had anticipated.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: In 2006 then Governor Mitt Romney didn't file a
transportation bond bill so as many as a hundred construction projects
stopped. This can drag projects out for years. The biggest project
underway now is the $300 million dollar reconstruction and widening of
nearly 14 miles of Route 128. It includes replacing 22 bridges. Many
parts are behind schedule including work at the 128/95 south
interchange in Canton and the overpass on Route 1 in Dedham.

Often contributing to delays is the way contracts are awarded. They go
to the lowest bidder. But Professor Moavenzedah says the low bids are
often unrealistic.

FRED MOAVENZEDAH: These contractors reduce the cost to bare bone in
order to get the job so obviously you expect some delays or cost over
runs or complication in the future.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Like going out of business. That happened with the
contractor paving Mass Ave. who was also working on two highway
overpasses on 128 and repaving Route 9. The highway department doesn't
see hiring the low bidder as a problem.

The state also doesn't give any incentive for work to be completed
early something John Pourbaix of Construction Industries says could
make projects go faster.

JOHN POURBAIX: Our industry would be delighted to see incentives. We
certainly have penalties. END CUT HERE

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: But Pourbaix says the contractors are seldom
penalized for delays because it's not their fault if they come across a
problem that wasn't in the design. On most projects, the state hires
one firm to design the project and another to build it. Commissioner
Paiewonsky wants more focus on the design.

LOUISA PAIEWONSKY: Often construction delays are caused years before in
the design process so we are doing an internal exercise looking at
whether we are investing enough in the design phase, whether we are
being comprehensives enough in the design scope.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: But what some construction industry experts say is
really holding back progress is the antiquated nature of the
road-building industry itself. Barry Patner is a construction lawyer in
New York City who wrote a forthcoming book on the industry. He says
that because construction companies are small and they don't have the
money to invest in new technologies.

BARRY PATNER: The construction industry amongst all industries in
America is the lowest spending industry in terms of IT spending for
technology and has the lowest per worker productivity of any industry
in the U.S.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Such low worker output could mean millions of
wasted dollars in Massachusetts, which has a back log of a staggering
$8 billion dollars in maintenance projects. And it means more
frustrated drivers like these, who were trying to navigate their way
through Kenmore Square. The subway and bus stop reconstruction is ten
months behind schedule it's already taken longer to rebuild than it
took to construct the entire original subway line.

VOXPOP: #1 Construction is truly a pain.
#2 It's pretty much a shame there's are no bike lanes and there is all
this construction going on right before students move in you can't even
ride your car down it forget a bike.
#3 We're from out of town and the last time we were here it was the
same way and it was horrible.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: The highway department hopes its streamlining task
force will find ways to complete projects 10 to 20 percent faster.

For WBRU I'm Monica Brady-Myerov