Initiative will require designers to look for opportunities to give contractors more time to do their work.

It started in 2008 with contractor C. C. Meyers coming up with an idea on how to handle a tough downtown Sacramento I-5 repair project: “Instead of working only at night and taking two to three years to complete the project, what if we closed the highway, worked 24/7 and got the job done with flexible work hours?” It worked.

Meyers finished the project in one construction “season” (yeah, they have those in Sacramento) instead of the three-year estimated project length. On top of saving a ton of money, this approach provided a much higher degree of safety for their union workforce and Caltrans’ employees on the worksite.

That’s important. Over the last five years, more than 3,000 people nationwide lost their lives in work-zone collisions, and more than 85 percent of the victims were the motoring public.

Now move to 2018. One Caltrans worker and four contractor employees died in the line of duty. Caltrans asked: “What do we need to do differently as an industry?” They convened a Safety Summit in December 2018, calling on experts in transportation and construction to help come up with a plan to make the work safer.

The result – Caltrans is rolling out three new safety initiatives: to reduce work-zone speeds (already under way), allow more space between workers and traffic (buffer lanes coming soon) and give contractors and their crews more flexibility on when and how the project is managed, using the Meyers experiment as an example, to work safer and get projects done faster. They see this as a benefit to the construction industry and the driving public after the initial kinks of the new process are worked out, and so do we.

Sometime this summer, maybe this month, the Flexible Work Windows Initiative will be built into construction and maintenance contracts. It requires designers to look for opportunities to give contractors more time to do their work. Contractors can set up road closures and spend more consistent time on the project, resulting in less exposure to traffic and shorter overall construction periods.

The first question that most of you will have with this new process is, “What will the unions say about this?” They haven’t said anything yet, but here’s what our labor advice is for now – write a “shift change” letter explaining the new hours are mandated on Caltrans work by contract – you have to do this anyway if you work anything other than the old 7 to 3 schedule.

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