Ninja Construction

20 Jun

When I grew up in the Midwest, in the Spring, a line of cones would appear on the highway, go for twenty miles, and not be removed until October. You would rarely see anyone working on it. In Arizona, cones appear overnight, and then the next day, disappear.

I’ve started calling this “ninja construction.” Take this morning’s commute, which suddenly choked traffic approaching a major intersection from three lanes to two. Just like Midwestern construction, you rarely ever see any construction workers, but the difference is that the construction zone goes away just as quickly as it appeared. It’s like ninjas have jumped in, finished whatever they’ve done, and jumped out of there.

At first, this was a welcome change of pace. “Gee, I don’t have to have my main route of travel blocked off for half the year.” However, this can get really annoying. At least with the Midwestern model, you can expect that there will be construction there. You can adjust your time or travel for it. With this Arizona model, you never know when suddenly there’s a construction zone, and traffic backs up two blocks before it… and you don’t know it’s there until you’re upon it, so you couldn’t take an alternate route – thankfully, we’re on a grid system, so it is possible – but not when you’re already in gridlock.

My wife, who used to work in a civil engineering office, gave a good reason why construction does take so long. Say there are five steps to building an on-ramp: teardown, cleanup, concrete framing, pouring and smoothing concrete, and paving the road. Since contractors tend to specialize, they bid on each of these steps separately. Then to keep your employees working, you bid on multiple contracts. That means when the first crew is finished with the teardown, the cleanup crew may be running behind on another ramp, so this construction remains vacant and closed, without anyone working on it.

Since Arizona is really, REALLY hot during the summer (and so is everywhere else), we adapted the idea of working at night far earlier than the rest of the country. So maybe the reason why I never see these ninja construction workers is because they’re working while I sleep? The development of portable large-scale lighting has really made this possible. As the exception to what I just said, downtown Phoenix has been ripped up for months due to the light rail expansion. As a result, they’ve had to do a lot of work underground (okay, not exactly sure if one has to do with the other), and they have very large, very LOUD trucks whose job it is to pump light into the tunnels below.

Side Note: Since I take the light rail into work, this has cause no end of fun for me, since they’ve had to run both routes of traffic on one rail, slowing arrival times considerably.

At least I take some comfort that when they say, “this will be only closed until July 15th,” they usually mean it. However, is there something I missed regarding road construction? Is there some reason that it takes SO long? Let me know in the comments below!

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