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Winter storms and record cold temperatures have risen across much of the southern and central US over the past week, with contractors in Texas particularly hard hit.
From Dallas to Austin, weather halted construction, including government infrastructure projects and private commercial jobs.
Monte Thurmond, department head for the Texas and South regions at AECOM Hunt, told Construction Dive that not only are snow and ice on the ground making the conditions so dangerous, but also the extreme cold, which most Texans are not used to. Thurmond is based in the Dallas area.
“It’s unprecedented,” he said.
According to CBS News, there have been at least 17 weather-related deaths in Texas since the storms began, and about 3 million people were without power as of Wednesday morning. Burst pipes and a lack of electricity in water treatment plants have also put residents at risk. The state is now preparing for a second storm, and temperatures in some major cities won’t be above freezing until Saturday.
Even without the rolling blackouts that would make most work on construction sites difficult, if not impossible, Thurmond said the vast majority of AECOM Hunt projects in the state have been temporarily halted, not just because conditions have left many construction sites unsafe, especially where there is no electricity prevents heating, but also because it is dangerous for workers to be on the move.
The Texas DOT has advised motorists to stay home except for an emergency, and according to a TxDOT spokesperson, numerous infrastructure projects across the state have also been suspended while the bad weather is over. The impact is spread across almost the entire state, with major issues in the northern part of the state, the spokesman told Construction Dive.
TxDOT projects, the agency said, have built-in bad weather allowances and expect work to resume as soon as conditions allow without materially affecting schedules.
Likewise, said Thurmond, AECOM Hunt will work closely with its customers and trading partners to meet the schedule if necessary. There might be some projects moving forward, like those taking place indoors with uninterrupted power supply in parts of the state that have milder weather and safe roads, but these would be “rare and far apart,” he said.
Fortunately for contractors, most construction contracts include an extension of the schedule if work stops due to this extreme and unusual weather. Ironically, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a kind of training ground for the way contractors work during the storm.
“Using some of our best practices implemented during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can continue to let our teams manage projects remotely as construction sites and offices are temporarily closed until conditions improve in a few days,” said Matt Hoglund, based in Austin, is the regional manager for general contractor DPR Construction.
Before the snow and ice began their migration across the state, Thurmond said AECOM Hunt winterized its construction sites as much as possible, but it is unknown which workers they will return to once temperatures start to rise as it does was unsure of going back to the projects to ensure that these measures were still in place. The exception is an employee in Austin who lives within walking distance of one of the company’s projects and ensures the integrity of the project when it is safe to do so.
DPR has also taken immediate action on its projects and does not anticipate any significant impact on its schedule, but as with AECOM Hunt, the well-being of its employees is the priority.
“Right now we are trying to keep in touch with our employees and make sure they are safe. That’s the most important thing, ”said Hoglund.
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