The spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has placed an incredible strain on Florida’s beautiful and tight-knit communities. Residents are sheltering at home, businesses have shuttered their doors, and the future remains unclear. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make the best of a bad situation. That’s exactly what the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is doing by accelerating critical infrastructure projects throughout the state and right here in Orlando.
Below, an Orlando construction lawyer with Cotney Construction Law discusses the various projects that are to be accelerated and the challenges that construction companies will be facing while working on these vital road and bridge projects. In addition to problems that have plagued the industry for years, construction crews will have to contend with new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seeing an Opportunity
Florida’s stay-at-home order was designed to keep people indoors in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The order has helped flatten the curve and had an additional outcome: drastically reducing traffic on roadways. Although Florida will begin reopening in stages, you can expect traffic to be reduced for quite some time. Seeing an opportunity to make the most of a bad situation, the FDOT announced that it would accelerate infrastructure projects valued at a total of $2.1 billion. “The Governor understands that Florida’s transportation system is the backbone of our economy and FDOT is proud to accelerate projects, which will help expedite goods to market and provide much-needed jobs throughout the state,” said FDOT Secretary Kevin J. Thibault, P.E.
Major projects to be accelerated include:
- The Howard Frankland Bridge Project in Tampa Bay: Accelerated by four weeks and valued at $864 million
- The widening of Southern Boulevard (SR 80) in western Palm Beach County: Accelerated by three months
- The I-395/SR 836/I-95 Design Build Project in Miami-Dade: Accelerated by four weeks and valued at $802 million
- The project at Sand Lake Road (SR 482) in Orlando: Accelerated by four-to-six weeks
Accelerating the I-4 Ultimate Project
The FDOT later announced that significant portions of the I-4 Ultimate Project would be expedited and completed one-to-two months early. “The Department completely understands that I-4 is a major artery within our state’s transportation system and delivering these significant portions of the I-4 Ultimate Project is a huge win for Florida’s residents and economy,” said Thibault. Specifically, segments of Westbound I-4 through downtown Orlando and portions of the SR408 interchange will be accelerated.
When we last covered the I-4 Ultimate Project, we discussed the project’s numerous safety concerns and significantly delayed schedule. The project has suffered from numerous “struck by object” accidents that have resulted in worker deaths. Struck-by hazards are among the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) “Fatal Four.” It is these struck-by hazards that the FDOT is trying to avoid by accelerating projects during a time when there are less people out driving. Consult one of our Orlando construction lawyers if you ever have any questions regarding OSHA compliance.
With regards to I-4 Ultimate, construction crews will be able to increase lane closures and extend work hours because of reduced traffic. Other accelerated projects throughout the state will be taking advantage of reduced traffic in a similar manner. Working on highway projects near moving vehicles is inherently dangerous. Even if your construction crew does everything by the book, you never know when the driver of a motor vehicle is impaired, distracted, or speeding. There are additional safety concerns that come with working extended hours on a highway or bridge project, including low visibility, exhausted or impaired workers, and inclement weather. Even with reduced traffic, Florida roads remain some of the most dangerous in the nation for construction workers.
Unfortunately, construction crews must now contend with a new safety concern, one that can be spread through microscopic droplets: COVID-19. “Safety is our top priority, so we will continue to ensure that employees have the sanitation supplies needed to follow the guidance from the CDC and work with our industry partners to implement these same precautions to keep workers safe and healthy,” said Thibault in the initial press release.
In addition to following CDC guidelines, construction crews must follow guidelines established by OSHA. Fortunately, OSHA just released new guidance made specifically for the construction workforce. This guidance includes measures that construction companies on these accelerated projects should follow to the letter, including:
- Send workers home if they are sick
- Allow workers to wear masks and personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Avoid physical contact and maintain social distancing (at least six feet)
- Frequently clean and disinfect portable toilets and frequently-touched items
- And numerous other measures
For contractors working on these accelerated projects, we recommend using extended work hours to stagger shifts so that fewer workers will be on a project at once. Social distancing will be one of the main challenges on critical infrastructure projects because of how collaborative these projects are. Although social distancing is a challenge, you must avoid situations where your workers are working in close proximity to each other, sharing tools, carpooling, or taking lunch breaks together. Failure to do so could result in sick workers and a hazardous work environment.
Making the Most of It
Although it may be difficult to do so, we encourage you to make the most of this terrible situation. Take precautions to keep workers safe from both struck-by hazards and the spread of COVID-19. Do everything you can to remain compliant with local, state, and federal regulations. Your company can come out ahead, but only if it takes the necessary steps to do so.
At Cotney Construction Law, we are here to help your company in any way we can. We are a national construction law firm with the resources and talent to represent companies on critical infrastructure projects. If you have any questions concerning what you’ve read in this article, don’t hesitate to contact an Orlando construction attorney from our law office. We’ve helped contractors overcome the most daunting of challenges, and we’d like to do the same for you.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.