After Backlash Over Initial Construction Suspension Schedule, DDOT Compromises With Contractors For Inauguration Week
With close to a million people coming to Washington, DC, for Donald Trump's inauguration and the subsequent women's march this weekend, the city's transportation infrastructure will be tested. To help alleviate congestion, the city is suspending work on construction projects from Thursday through Sunday, a move that is having an impact on the contractors trying to meet deadlines and the workers trying to get their paychecks.
While the break for Martin Luther King Day, which halted work for two days, and the inauguration have been known well in advance, the DC Department of Transportation did not release the work suspension schedule until last month.
For the inaugurations in 2009 and 2013, the holiday fell on the same weekend as the inauguration, so construction suspensions overlapped and created fewer missed days. During those years, especially in 2009, the District was not experiencing the same development boom, so there were fewer projects in the ground that could be affected.
This year DDOT had originally decided to suspend work for this entire week, creating a 12-day stoppage period from the 13th to 24th.
"The suspension, which was unprecedented, would have had a significant impact on construction in the city," DC Building Industry Association CEO Lisa Maria Mallory tells Bisnow. "In addition to that, only having two to three weeks notice when the calendar was set in stone was really a hardship for the entire industry."
In response, DDOT amended the calendar to suspend work for the 15th and 16th for MLK Day and the 19th through 22nd for the inauguration.
"One of our goals is to ensure that we work to keep the District open for business," DDOT spokesperson Terry Owens said in an e-mail. "We worked with the contracting community, listened to their input and arrived at a schedule that minimizes the impact on construction activity while ensuring these two major events can proceed as safely as possible."
The agency allowed contractors to apply for exemptions to do some work this weekend, and Owens said more than 100 have been granted. Among those were for Capitol Crossing (above) and CityCenterDC's second phase, the Conrad Hotel.
A contractor for Capitol Crossing tells Bisnow it got an exemption to work Thursday morning but cannot work overnight, when it typically shuts down the tunnel below the project, or at all between Friday and Sunday. The contractor said it he'll lose about two days from the original schedule and while it will have an impact and he would rather be working, he will be able to make up the lost time and it won't set the project's timeline back.
"They’re right above 395, so that was significant," Mallory said of Capitol Crossing. "It's an active construction site and they have their own system in place to continue to ensure the site is safe."
One substantial project HITT Contracting is preparing to break ground on was set back, HITT VP Josh Foreso told Bisnow. While he could not disclose which project, Foreso said the developer had planned to start construction last week but with all of the work suspensions, decided to push the start date until after inauguration weekend.
HITT received exemptions for two of its other projects. The contractor is working on Related Cos' 909 Half Street mixed-use project, plus a project in Southwest DC and two in Northwest DC.
He says the original 12-day suspension period would have created major setbacks for the projects, but the current schedule is still forcing the contractor to adjust. He said the ones in the early stages that require major deliveries would feel the impact even more because some work on nearly completed projects can be done on-site without impacting public space.
"Some projects will bear the brunt a little more," Foreso, on the right with his Base Building team, said. "Whenever you lose two or three days where you can’t pour concrete, that hurts."
To mitigate the impact, Foreso said he held meetings with subcontractors to get materials delivered in advance so they could make the most out of the time they are allowed to work on-site, and be ready to hit the ground running next week.
A bigger issue, Foreso said, is making sure the trade workers get their 40 hours this week, which could be a difficult task between the MLK Day and inauguration work suspensions.
"If you say they can’t work a full week, there might be no paycheck," Foreso said. "With the labor market as stretched thin as it is, we're trying to get men and women their 40 hours."
Turner Construction deputy operations manager Derek Brown, who is working on CityCenterDC's Phase 2 (rendered above), says the originally proposed suspension period would have been a serious problem for the workers.
"One of the big issues was many craft workers who rely on hourly wages," Brown said. "To tell them they won’t be able to work for eight workdays in January, considering there are only 22 days in a month. That's a third of their salary."
Brown said the revised schedule is much better and creates only a "minor issue." To lessen the impact, he said they are working slightly longer hours before and after inauguration weekend.
Clark Construction is working on several major projects in the District, including The Wharf and Carr Properties' Midtown Center. SVP Lee DeLong could not comment on individual projects, but he said the contractor has already worked with ownership groups to mitigate the impact of the work suspensions. As for worker hours, he said DC workers knew to expect days off because of the inauguration, the same as they do for holidays.