Mayor's Minute: August
August 2, 2019
Last month, I begin a multi-part series regarding road construction in Tuscaloosa. Like you, I also find it frustrating being delayed in traffic or navigating rough conditions. Day-to-day this journey is difficult, but on the near horizon the upgrading of our infrastructure will create safer and smoother roads, enhanced connectivity and new jobs. With the digital economy reshaping the landscape, waiting to improve the essential elements serving our city such as roads, water, sewer and fiber through key areas was not a viable option. In order for Tuscaloosa to compete with Chattanooga, Lexington, Greenville, Knoxville and many others for current and future knowledge-based and technology driven jobs, these much-needed improvements are fundamental.
As I did last month, I am going to briefly addressed some frequently asked questions. If you missed last month’s Mayor’s Minute, you can visit www.tuscaloosa.com.
Why is there no one working when I drive by? The majority of road projects are more than just simple paving. When these projects are located in urban areas such as downtown and major city-wide arteries, they generally involve heavy utility relocations and upgrades. When you open the earth up, you want to install utilities that stand the tests of time. Some of our current underground utilities were over 50 years old, and were in much need of repair. From relocating the above ground utilities (power, fiber) to replacing the below ground utilities (water, sewer and storm water), these are complicated and dangerous tasks that are compounded by having to keep the existing utilities operational with traffic flow. Once the below ground utilities are set, due to the vast majority being gravity lines, ample time must pass to ensure they do not settle incorrectly. It is critical that the lines are laid correctly the first time rather than having to open the roads a second time to redo the costly mistake of rushing the process. Unfortunately, during this settling time workers are not always present and it has caused confusion and frustration. When you consider that more than 140,000 multi-ton vehicles will be driving over these lines every day, safety and accuracy must take precedent. Lastly, in the world of heavy utility construction, there are not a lot of contractors and/or workforce that manage projects of this scale, which makes concentration of workforce problematic.
Why not offer incentives to finish ahead of schedule? Incentives are very effective in straight forward projects; however, the more complicated the utilities, the more difficult it is to add incentives. For example, in March, the City initiated discussions with ALDOT to explore the use of incentives with their Lurleen Wallace Boulevard Project. ALDOT’s review found that little time could be gained because of limiting work force, deep utility work, and the safety of those working in dark hours. It is not to say that incentives should be discarded. There are projects that fit the criteria, and we will continue to explore innovative options to prepare Tuscaloosa to compete for the jobs of the future.