After Gov. Greg Abbott issued a stay-home order at the end of March to promote social distancing, it created confusion for contractors and construction companies who were unsure if they were able to continue projects and working at job sites. Their work was not deemed essential at the time.
Then in early April, Abbott clarified this order to say that all types of construction are considered essential, allowing work to continue through the coronavirus pandemic.
What about the roads and highways that affect the daily lives of Texans?
Based on an interactive map at the Texas Department of Transportation website, 8,361 construction projects are underway.
Dr. Zhanmin Zhang, the Clyde E. Lee Endowed professor in Transportation Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering suggested keeping an eye on the RM 2222 and RM 620 bypass projects, which are currently under construction in northern Travis County. Designed to help ease congestion, improve mobility and add travel capacity, these projects were both slated for completion by this summer.
The I-35 Capital Express Central project is in the design and environmental phase, Adam Hammons, a media relations specialist at TxDOT, wrote in an email.
“TxDOT is committed to serving the people of Texas and meeting the state’s transportation needs. We are working closely with our contractors as well and, at this time, we have not halted any ongoing project work. We also have implemented higher standard safety protocols for our construction and maintenance crews,” the state agency said in a statement.
“We are continuing to monitor the situation closely, and we are in constant contact with state health and emergency management officials to follow any guidance issued.”
What about worksites and social distancing responsibilities?
Some employers have independently started taking the temperature of each of their employees daily. Several Texas cities have decided against relying on employers to take steps on their own and have instead mandated social distancing, accommodations for appropriate hygiene and daily fever screenings at construction sites.
This week, Fox San Antonio interviewed Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) about the pandemic and Texas’ response to it. When infrastructure came up, Cornyn said he thinks money is an issue.
“The infrastructure has bipartisan support, but the question is how do you pay for it? We have some ideas, but you can’t build roads and bridges for free. We’ve already seen a huge amount of money added to our deficit because of this so we need to come up with a responsible way to pay for these roads, bridges and infrastructure and that needs to be done on a user-based basis. We are not going to raise the gas tax.”
Some are banking on the idea that the pandemic can provide hope for federal money for Texas road, bridge and port projects. U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Houston), who is on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said “getting the infrastructure bill done makes a lot of sense,” the Houston Chronicle reported.
“It will be a really important driver to get our country up and running and back to work once we’re on the other side of COVID-19,” Fletcher said.
It’s easy to forget that infrastructure includes the digital divide and expanding internet to rural communities. Reform Austin reported on the digital divide here.
In Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S., big projects such as the Harris County Flood Control District will continue, according to the Engineering News-Report.
The biggest Houston-area projects, such as high schools, a petrochemical plant and apartment complexes near the Museum District will go forth, according to Dodge Data & Analytics, the Houston Chronicle reported.