Construction companies face frosty test
Seasonal weight restrictions on roads force firms to alter plans.
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Seasonal weight restrictions, or “frost laws,” are put in place during the vital mid-to-late winter months, when freezing and thawing compromise the durability of roads. But the same laws intended to preserve Michigan’s roads pose a challenge for construction firms that need to transport heavy loads and equipment.
For the Corner Bar restoration project, which the Business Journal previously reported was led by Orion Construction, seasonal laws have restricted the crew’s ability to transport the necessary equipment and materials on-site.
“It’s typically if we need heavy machinery on-site when it becomes a problem,” said Brad Walsh, project manager at Orion. “This equipment is tens of thousands of tons.”
The Corner Bar project ran into trouble when Orion’s precast subcontractor couldn’t move a crane on-site to set the precast, but the firm was able to locate another operator stationed in an area that could reach the job site.
Walsh speculated the search pushed their schedule back at least a week. The project doesn’t have a final cost as of yet, but he said he hopes Orion won’t endure any added financial burden.
Seasonal weight limits can impact the cost of a given project by limiting loads for steel, concrete and other materials.
“You can certainly get materials, but it’s going to be at half-loads, which increases freight cost and time,” Walsh said. “On the equipment side of things, most of the time you’re dead in the water because you can’t get half-sized equipment.”
Seasonal weight limits are enacted depending on the weather, which can negatively impact crews’ ability to plan.
“We’ve had a couple warm spells spread throughout this winter,” Walsh said. “It’s more so based on the freeze/thaw aspect of it, and obviously, we don’t want these roads heaving to create the potholes you see on a daily basis.”
Dave Williamson, vice president of operations at Rockford Construction, said his firm starts to formulate ways to cut time on projects around mid-to-late winter. These plans usually take place during the preconstruction phase.
“With our preconstruction clients, we try to plan to the best of our ability,” he said. “We move equipment and material early on job sites.”
Williamson said Rockford Construction usually gets word of frost laws taking effect from their excavating partners and passes the knowledge along to their field correspondents for them to plan accordingly. But the news tends to arrive only a few days in advance.
When frost laws are in place, he said they can impact even small tasks involving heavy equipment.
“Six years ago, we were not able to move a crane a half-mile to the job site because of weight restrictions,” he said. “At that point we had to alter our schedule and work on some different areas of the project.”
In a given scenario when heavy loads and equipment can’t be moved to a job site, Williamson said they might move to lighter loads, locate smaller pieces of equipment or simply do the on-site work that is not dependent on heavy hauling.
“We try to just re-evaluate the schedule,” he said. “We’re never just going to sit and not do anything.”
Walsh said Orion also looks for ways to compensate for lost time.
“We’re trying to cut days, not add them,” he said. “I think on every project, you’re looking at different ways to cut time.”
In extreme cases when a piece of equipment has to arrive on-site but the route is blocked by weight limits, Williamson said they might reach out to the local municipality to plead their case.
“We want our trade partners to obey the law, so we wouldn’t push them into a scenario where they would do anything unlawful,” Williamson said.
The frost laws of several West Michigan municipalities already have been lifted, according to the Kent County Road Commission. The road commissions for Kent, Barry, Ionia, Montcalm, Muskegon and Newaygo counties, as well the cities of Kentwood and Walker, lifted their respective frost laws on March 28.
Seasonal weight limits for state roads, however, still are in effect. According to a post on the Michigan Department of Transportation’s website, the department enacted additional weight restrictions for the spring.
Restrictions on state roads include a 25 percent weight reduction for concrete pavements and a 35 percent reduction for asphalt.