Nighttime road construction is a contentious issue. Road or highway upgrade and maintenance at night is also intensely debated by the proponents and critics. There are significant advantages and disadvantages of nighttime road construction, so the moot point is if it should be done.
Road construction can be done at night if a project site cannot be adequately isolated and the operation is unviable during the day. Otherwise, the decision should rest on project-specific merits and demerits, including but not limited to safety, cost, quality of construction, and feasibility.
Safety concerns dominate the discourse about nighttime road construction. Operating costs and workers’ morale are also cited as significant demerits. However, as this guide elaborates, the lack of consensus on a few key metrics continues to simmer the vexed discussion.
Advantages of Road Construction at Night
Dr. Donn E. Hancher (Ph.D., P.E.), the Terrell-McDowell Chair Professor of Construction Engineering and Management at the University of Kentucky, conducted extensive research with Timothy R.B. Taylor (E.I.T.) to study nighttime construction issues.
The Hancher & Taylor study grouped its respondents as the Department of Transportation, highway contractor, and resident engineer with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
All three respondents cited high daytime traffic as their primary reason for preferring road construction at night.
The other common issues encouraging nighttime construction reported in the findings are daytime schedule issues and longer work periods.
The highway contractor cited contract incentives as a contributing factor to favoring nighttime construction. The resident engineer meanwhile cited temperature concerns as a significant issue.
No, Little, or Manageable Traffic
The most obvious reason for favoring road construction at night is traffic control. Very few roads or highways host chockablock traffic throughout the night.
Diverting daytime traffic is a chaotic process. In some scenarios, it’s nearly impossible or unfeasible to block or regulate the traffic on major thoroughfares of large cities and transportation corridors. Country roads and quieter routes are relatively manageable during the day.
Hence, road construction at night becomes the only practical solution in several instances when daytime work is complicated or unviable.
Easy To Isolate the Project Site
Traffic control, regulation, or diversion isn’t the only prerequisite for road construction. A project site needs to be isolated in many cases.
The immediate area should be completely isolated and off-limits for anyone other than authorized personnel. The immediate surrounding area must be relatively secluded, too.
The total area requiring cordoning may vary from one project to another. Large projects may require traffic diversion hundreds of meters away from the actual site.
Relatively Simpler To Prepare the Site
Like seclusion and cordoning, nighttime construction facilitates simpler site preparation.
Most heavy equipment and machines are moved to the site at the outset, and they remain stationed at specific places with required maneuverability. However, other machines and most materials are supplied to the site in due course per the requirements.
All road construction projects involve various types of site preparation. While the ground is made ready for construction, the onsite crew will also set up necessary support systems and ancillary installations.
Impeccable traffic control and limited to no public presence or movement immediately around a project site make complicated operations easier.
Better Weather in Many Cases
Summers in many parts of the country pose an unavoidable challenge. The cooler nighttime temperatures make the construction work less cumbersome.
There’s also a technical advantage of road construction at night during summer.
The ideal temperature for pouring concrete is 40 °F to 60 °F (4.4 °C to 15.5 °C). Daytime temperatures during summer are usually higher than 70 °F (21 °C) in many parts of the country, which can be an issue when dealing with concrete.
Disadvantages of Road Construction at Night
All relevant authorities and nodal agencies weigh the pros and cons of road construction at night before deciding. The Arizona Department of Transportation chooses both day and night shifts to complete projects sooner, but only when the latter scenario is safe and viable.
The Hancher and Taylor research previously cited recorded the Kentucky Department of Transportation, resident engineer, and highway contractor saying safety, lighting, and quality are the most common and significant problems.
Safety is the most critical factor for road construction at night. Construction workers, motorists or drivers, and commuters not at the wheels are more vulnerable to accidents during the night due to several factors.
The most common reasons for increased risks to safety are:
However, unsafe speed for prevailing conditions is equally or more common in the daytime.
Another risk factor is due to traffic diversion. Tired drivers unfamiliar with a redirected route may be more vulnerable to accidents.
The National Cooperative Highway Research Program has illumination guidelines for nighttime construction. The different illumination levels require special lighting and also increase the project cost.
Numerous studies prove the crucial role of lighting on roads and highways in ensuring public safety and preventing accidents. Several research findings have inferred a causal correlation between road accidents and inappropriate lighting, including that glare increases the crash rate.
Noise and Light Pollution
Noise pollution caused by road construction is an issue irrespective of day and night. However, project sites close to residential neighborhoods may generate sufficient noise to disrupt sleep and other activities of the local citizens.
Similarly, light pollution isn’t a concern if a project site is distant from residential neighborhoods. However, excessive light may be of some inconvenience to drivers and passersby.
Quality of Construction
Ideally, road construction at night shouldn’t have a quality issue. The cooler nighttime temperatures during summer, a relatively calmer and controlled work environment, and a project site free from the distraction of traffic and public movement should facilitate better quality construction.
Yet, the quality of construction may be inferior due to inadequate or inappropriate lighting and the shift schedule of workers. Besides, nighttime construction isn’t feasible during winters as near-freezing temperatures aren’t suitable for pouring concrete.
Disputed Facets of Nighttime Road Construction
Dr. O. A. Elrahman (Ph.D.) authored a report titled Nighttime Road Construction Operations: Synthesis of Practice for the New York State Department of Transportation.
The comprehensive report drew many conclusions. According to Dr. Elrahman, some of the facets of nighttime road construction remain disputed or not convincingly established.
These disputed facets are:
The highway contractor in Kentucky cited contract incentives as one of the reasons for preferring nighttime construction. Such incentives may offset the cost of lighting arrangements. Besides, daytime construction also has cost disadvantages, mainly due to the resources necessary to manage traffic.
Productivity and workers’ morale are subjective matters. The industry has no consensus about such issues. Dr. Elrahman concludes that construction workers don’t encounter any unique challenges or adverse health effects which do not apply to other professionals on night shifts.
Equipment maintenance and emergency responses were cited in the past as common challenges. However, technological advances and improved communications have changed that paradigm.
Many critical round-the-clock or night shift operations pan out routinely, with or without hindrances, including those in healthcare, emergency services, and law enforcement.
Should road construction be done at night is eventually a project-specific consideration. Viability, safety, and risk-benefit analysis should decide in favor or against road construction at night.
Any in-principle advocacy or criticism tends to become subjective and general rather than championing objectivity based on facts.