Smooth Operations

Nov. 1, 2004
A construction mitigation plan puts a priority on safety, minimizes disruptions and maintains campus operations.

Across the nation, higher-education institutions are carrying out their capital programs while maintaining the quality of life on campus during construction. Traffic detours, noise and disruptions to utilities are only a few of the unavoidable challenges that schools must address. When building programs involve several facilities, the challenges can become daunting.

For many colleges and universities, a campuswide construction mitigation plan provides a comprehensive way to address interrelated construction issues. A construction mitigation plan is a practical tool that identifies specific tasks — traffic management and parking, noise and vibration, dust emissions and odor control, and utility management — and creates a schedule to address those issues. Activities might include the collection of baseline data to identify existing campus conditions, an assessment of individual and cumulative effects that result from the planned construction, and the development of specific mitigation steps. By considering inspections and reports to the resident engineer, along with actions that can be taken in case of deficiencies, the plan provides a mechanism for rapid response that keeps the project on track.

Getting around

The first step in developing a plan for traffic management and construction parking is to map existing traffic patterns and parking facilities. This helps identify critical issues and potential conflicts. A geographic information system (GIS), which produces base mapping, can be used to map access and traffic-congestion issues, bicycle routes, and public transit and construction vehicles. Construction activities, including signage and placement of barriers or obstructions, are indicated on the base map. (Data on all pertinent city, state and federal regulations and permitting processes including parking, truck route restrictions, snow restrictions and street cleaning schedules, also can be incorporated into the database.)

Construction sequencing schedules are developed for each project to reflect changes to traffic patterns, vehicle and pedestrian access, and parking. Specific project schedules are included in a composite schedule for the entire construction program. The access needs for each site, including number of vehicles, construction parking needs and construction staging requirements, are identified as well.

The result is a plan that provides a comprehensive approach to managing traffic, pedestrian circulation and parking. The site-access plan should identify approved truck routes, truck holding and queuing areas, possible lay-down areas for construction materials, and wash-down and dust control areas as needed. It should include various methods of maintaining circulation such as lane reductions, shifts and alterations, traffic-pattern changes (flow directions, detours and speed limits), signage and signals. During construction, existing signal timings may need to be modified to reflect changes in roadway configuration or traffic patterns. Signal phasing updates must be investigated in coordination with local and state officials to accommodate traffic and pedestrian shifts.

Parking issues should be examined to create plans for construction vehicles and employees, and for non-construction needs such as residential or business parking. Displacements, conflicts and potential new parking areas must be identified. Increased use of public transportation for construction workers, including a subsidy of transit passes to encourage ridership, also is an effective way to reduce parking requirements.

Pedestrian needs must be identified and addressed as well, with priority given to safety and convenience. Appropriate steps include handicapped-accessible paths, barriers, signage, signals and lighting. Finally, transit vehicles must have clear access through any construction area or be efficiently re-routed without major service interruptions and inconvenience to riders. Easy access to transit stops also must be maintained. It is critical that the cumulative effects of adjacent projects be assessed in order to fully understand and meet transportation and parking needs.

Quiet, please

Noise and vibration are common effects of construction and can affect occupants of nearby buildings significantly, as well as research and instructional instruments, and, in some cases, the building structures themselves. The area first must be inspected to determine how noise and vibration will affect the surrounding buildings and their uses, and to identify receptors (people, property and instruments) that are particularly sensitive to noise. Prior to construction, baseline noise measurements should be obtained to establish a point of comparison.

Appropriate construction noise and vibration criteria limits are determined according to the noise sensitivity and land use of adjacent buildings, the type of construction activities to be performed, and the locations of these activities. At minimum, contractors must meet existing noise and vibration regulations. However, if existing regulations are not sufficient to mitigate the effects of noise and vibration, contract documents should incorporate additional criteria and require contractors to meet these as well with best management practices (BMPs).

In particular, a construction noise/vibration control specification should be incorporated into each contract to define specific construction activities, hours of operation and noise sensitivity of adjacent receptors. The plan should include schedules to review the contractors' noise-control plans and their updates to ensure compliance with regulations and contract specifications. The approval process should certify that control measures to be used will achieve specification goals. It is vital that contractor activities are monitored regularly to ensure that compliance with specifications is being fulfilled.

Something in the air

Construction generates a considerable amount of dust, as well as odors associated with excavation work and diesel emissions, both on and off the construction site. Development of a mitigation plan begins by inspecting project areas to determine the scope of construction activities that will be performed and the site's proximity to other campus facilities. The plan should address existing conditions, laws and regulations to determine the extent that specific mitigation control measures should be used according to the scope and location of the construction activities.

Dust, emissions and odor-control specifications should be incorporated into each contract targeting specific construction activities, and the type, quantities and daily hours of equipment to be used. The plan should establish a schedule for submittal and review of contractors' dust, emissions and odor-control plans, which should be evaluated to determine if the measures to be taken achieve contract specifications. It is important to note the value of field inspections at the start of construction to meet specifications, as well as regular inspection for maintenance of controls, particularly during dry periods when dust is most prevalent.

Staying plugged in

Utility work has significant effects on vehicular and pedestrian circulation and safety. Under the best circumstances, utility excavations affect stormwater runoff, and produce debris and sediment. Existing utility lines rarely are found where they are expected based on as-built drawings, particularly in older cities. This can result in line breaks during excavations. Moreover, a construction program that requires a high degree of coordination to minimize disruption to users and maximize efficiency of construction may affect multiple utility lines and owners.

Based on the approved construction documents for individual contracts, each contractor's program requirements should be analyzed with regard to proposed utilities or modifications. A composite utility map should be developed for the program area. The mitigation plan should outline criteria and methods for resolving interface problem areas, developing alternative approaches to design and construction of the utility interface elements, and interpreting and rendering decisions on contract documents.

Contract specifications should cover requirements for pre-construction and post-construction condition surveys of stormwater discharges, stormwater management, runoff control and containment, and protection of sensitive areas, such as catch basins or inlets, from construction debris. The plan should include a schedule of inspections of mitigation efforts such as the use of hay bale check dams, silt fences and on-site sedimentation pits or tanks. Contractors should be required to maintain existing utility service unless otherwise specified in the plans and to maintain access to utilities throughout the construction program. The plan should facilitate interface with other parties working in the area.

The mitigation plan should integrate utility construction sequencing and staging areas for various contracts with the overall traffic-management plan. There should be provisions for maintaining vehicular and pedestrian circulation through use of lane closures, detours, signage, barriers, fencing and warning devices.

The plan should include provisions for selective use of pre-construction still photos and video to document existing conditions. This step is particularly important when pile driving or heavy demolition may affect an adjacent building. A time-dated photographic or video record of the conditions of buildings, other structures, ground surface and other pertinent features should be supported with descriptive text.

Talk about it

Throughout the construction program, it is essential for the persons responsible for developing, carrying out and monitoring the mitigation plan to participate in regular meetings and other communication with campus administrators, staff, faculty and students, area business owners, residents, government officials, contractors and utility owners. These communications are a key to maintaining good relationships, coordinating schedules and minimizing conflicts.

Additional entities to coordinate may include transit authorities, fire and police departments, emergency-medical-service providers, and other contractors or agencies operating in the project area. It also is important to communicate effectively within the entire campus so plans of different schools or departments can become part of an integrated mitigation plan communicated to others, including municipal agencies with approval authority.

Finally, the people responsible for the construction-services mitigation plan should assist the school and contractors in contract closeout procedures, including inspections upon substantial and final completion of work and preparation of punch-list items.

A campuswide capital-improvement program poses many challenges, but faculty members, staff, students, visitors and the surrounding community don't need to endure the hazards and inconveniences associated with construction. A small investment in a comprehensive construction services mitigation plan yields great benefits for the institution and community through effective management of the many issues that can arise.

Paul is vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff, Boston, a planning, engineering and construction-management firm.

Managing a capital-improvement program

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, is in the midst of a $1 billion campuswide capital-improvement program involving 18 projects ranging from $50 million to $300 million in construction costs. Recognizing the impact of construction on campus and in the community, MIT is using a comprehensive construction services mitigation plan, along with other scheduling, financial and construction-management services.

The construction mitigation plan includes provisions to manage traffic and parking; noise and vibration; dust, emissions and odors; and utilities. Project managers are receiving help in carrying out mitigation procedures. GIS mapping is being used to enhance understanding of construction issues. Construction sites are being inspected frequently for compliance, and regular meetings and other communications facilitate outreach from MIT to the community.

An effective plan, regular inspections and practical solutions are required to maintain project schedules and reduce effects on the campus and community. For example, during 2003, the following four projects all were in progress on busy Vassar Street:

  • Underground utility construction project: A 4,000-lineal-foot utility-replacement program consisting of new water, sewer and drain lines, new steam and chilled-water supplies, telecom and electric duct bank distribution, and high- and low-pressure gas services (completed July 2003).

  • Vassar streetscape project: Full-depth reconstruction of East Vassar Street with complete surface improvements including new curbing, new sidewalks, street lighting, bikeways and trees (completed October 2003).

  • Brain and cognitive sciences project: A 10-story, 400,000-square-foot facility containing laboratories, classrooms, an auditoria and other spaces (scheduled completion November 2005).

  • Ray and Maria Stata Science Center: A 2.8-acre complex that features flexible research facilities, an interior student boulevard, an auditorium, classrooms, fitness facilities, a childcare center and underground parking, whose front door is on Vassar Street.

Traffic and utility management were key issues. Plans were developed to show the different stages of construction and to provide a traffic plan for each, including signage and controls. GIS street maps of the local street network were created and used in meetings because of the user-friendly way they display technical information. A checklist of requirements was developed for the four contractors with overlapping projects.

During critical periods, the street was monitored once or twice daily to ensure compliance with all restrictions. The resident engineer was on hand to resolve issues as they arose. For example, not only is Vassar Street a truck route, but also it carries train and bus lines, and connects to other major arterials in Cambridge. One weekday morning during commuting hours, traffic had backed up because of signal timing of two closely spaced traffic lights. With construction impacts and detours, it caused a significant increase in traffic congestion. After receiving a complaint in the morning, traffic engineers were on the street with city representatives and construction contractors to identify the source of the problem and to find a rapid solution. Based on an analysis of the traffic signals, timing was altered to improve traffic flow.

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