Pennsylvania appears to be the first state to suspend road and bridge construction in response to the growing COVID-19 crisis, as both the state Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission ordered contractors to halt work on current projects for two weeks as of midnight March 17.
“Projects that were in progress are being inspected to make sure everything is secured, and that there are no dangers to travelers,” says PennDOT spokesperson Alexis Campbell. PennDOT’s district offices, motorist licensing offices and welcome centers are closed as well, while toll roads are operating with only electronic payment systems. PennDOT and Turnpike will continue to provide emergency repair maintenance work as needed.
The only project that appeared to carry over into the daylight hours was removal of traffic maintenance staging equipment at a Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnel renovation in the south-central portion of the state.
The move follows Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) directive extending a Philadelphia-area shutdown of non-essential government offices businesses to all 67 counties.
Campbell says while the shutdown will last at least through the end of March, the situation is being constantly reviewed. It’s unclear at this time how the suspension will affect contracted completion schedules including incentives and penalties.
“We’ve been in touch with industry and will figure out the best way forward,” she says, noting that the shutdown’s impact might have been far greater had it occurred during the peak construction season.
Robert Latham, executive vice president of Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, credited PennDOT for its efforts to keep everyone safe amid the crisis, but noted that no other state has taken such a drastic move.
Latham, whose group had been alerted to the impending shutdown order, is hopeful that should other state DOTs continue their construction operations, Pennsylvania will quickly reconsider its decision. He noted that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation remains operational, even though Boston has halted vertical construction projects.
“We know PennDOT appreciates that the shutdown order has placed a $2.2 billion industry on hold,” he says, but that effects on workers and the unemployment compensation system should be considered as well.
“If it appears that construction operations can be safely resume, I’m hopeful they’ll do that sooner than later,” he added.
Transportation construction activity in Pennsylvania’s neighboring states so far remains uninterrupted.
“As things stand right now, it is business as usual with all our projects and their related phases,” says Delaware DOT spokesperson Louise Holt. “We want to do everything we can to sustain the transportation industry.” She added that the agency is “staying in close contact” with Delaware’s contracting and engineering communities.
In Ohio, where school and restaurant closures are also in effect, Department of Transportation press secretary Matt Bruning says none of the agency’s projects are being delayed by COVID-19.
“In fact, it’s a great time to be in the construction industry as those workers already practice social distancing,” Bruning added.