By Chris Evers / Published March 2018
“The time has come.” “Bring the pain.” “Brace for impact.” “Man the phones.” These comments reflect the attitudes of typical community association stakeholders when pavement preservation projects are scheduled. After all, who wants to be inconvenienced by road work? Similarly, who wants their phone ringing off the hook (for those who remember the hook, that is)?
It should go without saying, if you do have to field a resident complaint: remain calm, stay positive, and always agree with the resident. Nothing good comes from an argument. The good news is, with special care, the right partners, and the right materials there won’t be any pain, negative impact, or argument. After all, the best way to anticipate and field resident complaints and concerns is to work proactively to avoid them all together!
This may seem like an oxymoron, but it really is just common sense. The best time to start thinking about complaints is well before the project is underway. In fact, the planning stage is the most effective time to anticipate and actually intercept concerns and potential complaints. That’s primarily because those of us who have been in this game awhile know from experience the most common complaints related to this type of work and their root causes. Let’s look at a few:
Complaint #1: “My road is closed to traffic during construction, and I can’t get in or out of my driveway. Now I’m going to be late for my [fill in the blank]!”
Root Cause: With any project, there are inevitable delays. But it is the length of those delays that creates the greatest consternation among residents. How long will the selected process negatively impact resident traffic?
Maintenance of traffic is key to reducing resident complaints.There is a big difference between a 15 minute delay and an eight-hour delay; they will elicit very different levels and quantities of complaints from residents. By paying attention to the types of materials used for pavement preservation projects, one can minimize the disruption to residents. Start in the planning stages by looking at the condition of the roads in the community. We know that starting a preservation program works best when the roads are in good condition. It’s much easier and more cost effective to keep a good road good. Starting early with a rejuvenation program in the first one to three years of asphalt pavement life constitutes best practice for the roads, and as an added benefit, early remediation offers the quickest return to traffic of any preservation strategy. Selecting this approach will minimize complaints when it comes time to do the project.
If the roads are not good candidates for rejuvenation, just remember: not all sealants are created equal. You will want to research health and environmental concerns, as well as which sealants require longer road closures. Avoiding such materials is another way to proactively ward off customer complaints.
Complaint #2: “This junk you are putting on the road tracked all over my brick paver driveway! Now the dog stepped in it, and the stuff is all over my white carpet.”
Root Cause: This is an example of another process-related complaint that is time-related. The type of materials chosen during design, and the inherent speed at which those products cure, will determine the amount and severity of complaints during construction.
Some materials take longer to cure and therefore can become problematic if a worksite is returned prematurely to traffic or if a furry creature happens to step on the pavement before the preservation material has fully cured. Again, the time to address this concern is during the planning and pre-construction phase.
Many sealers are prone to tracking if traffic resumes prematurely. Always ask the engineer, property manager, and the contractor about the length of time the materials used are susceptible to tracking. You should find out how they plan to mitigate any potential tracking. The longer it takes for the preservation product to cure, the higher the likelihood that a resident will drive through it and “make a mess.”
During the implementation of the preservation process, there are two things that will determine the frequency and intensity of resident complaints: efficient organization and responsible communications. Complaints during this stage of preservation work generally relate to how inexperienced or inattentive the contractor, HOA, or property manager is at handling these types of projects.
Complaint #3: “I had no idea there was a project going on today. What am I supposed to tell my landscaping contractor?”
Root Cause: Poor communication just prior to the start of the project and during construction is a common cause of complaints during construction.
In the weeks preceding the project, the HOA or property manager should use the community newsletter, website, resident meetings, and social media to announce the commencement of the pavement preservation project. Just before the project, signage should be posted, and the contractor should hand out resident notifications. This is one instance where there is no such thing as overcommunicating!
It is appropriate to include some information about the reason behind the preservation (to extend the life of the roads) and the advantages of the process selected (least amount of disruption, longest life extension, etc.) to reassure residents that the work being done is in their best interest. By canvassing the neighborhood digitally, by word of mouth, and with literature, many of these types of complaints can be completely avoided.
Another concern once a project is underway is traffic control.
Complaint #4: “How do I get to my house? Do I seriously have to walk half a mile from where I parked my car?”
Root Cause: Poor traffic control is the chief factor contributing to these types of concern. But it should also be kept in mind that some processes have the disadvantage of requiring extended closure to vehicular traffic, as previously noted.
Requiring the contractor to carefully review their Maintenance of Traffic (MOT) plan during the pre-construction meeting is a good first step to alleviate complaints such as these. Single lane closures are common for preservation projects, but the closure’s duration plays a big part in how upset residents will get. Paying close attention to this issue and accurately communicating expectations to residents before the work begins is the best way to reduce the frequency and severity of these types of complaints.
Good communication with the residents both during the design process, pre-project planning, and actual construction will help ensure a successful project. Selecting the “right treatment” will get you started off on the right foot, but in the end, it is the attention to detail paid by the contractor, property manager, and the HOA that will keep residents off the phone and in a good mood. Use as many communication tools as possible, minimize confusion, and stick to the plan. That will help everyone enjoy the silence.
What’s the moral of this story? Always go the extra mile…there’s less traffic!
Technical Representative for Pavement Technology, Inc.
Chris Evers has served as a technical representative for Pavement Technology, Inc. since 2011 and has been involved in the road building business since 1996. He is a past president of the APWA Florida Chapter and an active participant on its Legislative Affairs committee. He founded and continues to moderate the annual APWA International Public Works Director Roundtable and was also instrumental in founding the Florida Pavement Preservation Council. Chris is a popular pavement preservation educator/speaker throughout Florida and resides in Vero Beach. For more information on Pavement Technology, visit www.pavetechinc.com or contact Chris via email@example.com.