Work on NORTHSIDE streets continued last week, even as the coronavirus was spreading.
While many people were working from home, city crews and private contractors were still in the field, filling potholes, paving roads and responding to main breaks.
“Public works hasn’t shut down,” said Jackson Engineering Manager Charles Williams. “Our crews are still at work.”
In mid-March, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba declared a civil emergency, and issued orders closing non-essential city offices, shutting down restaurants and banning gatherings of 10 or more people.
However, telecommuting is not an option for road crews and private contractors, who cannot pour asphalt or fill potholes from a home computer.
“It’s business as usual until the government tells us to shut down,” said Richard Rula, president of Hemphill Construction.
At press time, the Florence-based company was continuing work on the North State Street Reconstruction Project.
Similarly, crews with APAC Mississippi were still working on the East Northside Drive Repaving Project, while crews with Eutaw Construction were making progress on the Lake Harbour Drive Extension Project.
Rula said no cities had stopped work on any of his firm’s projects at press time, nor had cities stopped paying for the work being done.
“Some cities are postponing bidding jobs by a week or two, but there are very few of those situations,” he said.
Meanwhile, with the coronavirus still a threat, city leaders and contractors are doing everything possible to keep their employees safe.
For their part, the cities of Jackson and Ridgeland are following guidelines handed down by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Mississippi State Department of Health.
“One of the things with our crews is we make sure they have supplies to clean their trucks. We’re also asking them to wear masks and roll down the windows when they ride,” Williams said.
“We are asking our employees to wash their hands on a regular basis and use hand sanitizer,” said Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee. “We are following the advice of the CDC as closely as possible.”
Hemphill is taking similar steps, handing out gloves, hand sanitizer and masks to workers.
“We are following the six-foot rule the best we can,” Rula said. “We don’t have a problem with crowds.”
CDC and state guidelines recommend individuals practice “social distancing” and stay at least six feet apart while in public.
Hemphill has about 500 employees. The Florence-based company was awarded a roughly $19.6 million contract to rebuild a two-mile stretch of North State Street in the fall of 2017.
The project includes completely reconstructing North State from Sheppard Road to Hartfield Street. Work is expected to wrap up this year, weather and coronavirus-related shutdowns pending.
“We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” Rula said. “Some states have shut down all construction. We hope that Mississippi, being somewhat rural, will not be impacted that way.”
As of last week, 23 states had ordered shutdowns of all non-essential businesses in an effort to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
Rather, most construction bans had been implemented at the local level.
On March 16, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh ordered a stop to all construction projects in the Massachusetts city citing a need to curb the virus after 33 cases had been reported there. That same day, county officials in Bergen County, New Jersey, had also stopped construction activity, citing COVID-19.