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As the summer begins in Finland, street works also start. In addition to smaller street repairs, several large infrastructure projects are in progress, such as Jokeri Light Rail, Tampere Tramway and the renovation of Hämeentie road in Helsinki. The work could be completed several months faster through cooperation between the construction project parties and more flexibility in terms of working hours from citizens.
Functional cities need street repairs, but they cause anger in many people and give rise to lots of questions: Why does it seem like street works are constantly in progress? Why can’t they be completed faster? And who is responsible for the noise and vibration caused or the breaks in electricity and water supply?
According to YIT’s Production Manager Kari Simonen (Tampere Tramway) and Head of Division Aleksi Laine, street repairs and the nuisance caused by them cannot be eliminated completely, but a lot can be achieved through rationalisation and better coordination between the parties.
According to Laine, the basis of everything is that the supplier conducts the required surveys before the ground is broken.
“Many problems or delays are caused by underground electricity or water lines that have not been identified in the surveys. In such cases, we need to investigate what it is all about, what should be done and by whom. This always takes up time.”
The constructors wait for the answers on the site with nothing to do, or the construction site is left vacant. Laine says that outsiders get a poor impression in both cases, which reinforces their feeling that street repairs are done slowly.
“In such cases, I’ve noticed that people feel the construction site is left open for no reason, and this bothers them.”
In addition to comprehensive and accurate surveys, the development phase has a significant influence on the fluency of the project and the prevention of future problems. In the Tampere Tramway project implemented according to the alliance model, the development phase took a full year.
“That’s how the dialogue between the parties got started,” Simonen says.
Dialogue is of key importance in street works because of the high number of participating operators; sometimes, there may even be dozens of parties involved and thing to consider, like the rescue department, public transport, pedestrian traffic, cycling, service traffic, other traffic, water pipeline works, sewer systems, stormwater, electrical installations, telecommunications operators, district heating & cooling and housing companies.
Tampere Tramway has been praised for excellent communications throughout the project that has even sparked new innovations related to communications. Simonen and Laine say that excellent communications are at the core of efficient work.
“We communicate everything and, in addition to the weekly bulletins, we send out bulletins almost every day. A person has been assigned for communications at the site in each segment.”
We distribute the releases to the media, housing companies, companies and other parties influenced by the infrastructure projects. When we provide information continuously, there are fewer surprises that may make daily life difficult.
The promptness of street works is greatly impacted by whether the street, or even a lane, can be closed fully for the duration of the work. This is often not the case.
“In the Jokeri Light Rail project, we have been able to cut all traffic on the street in some places. It is our experience from this and other projects that this speeds up the work compared to keeping the street partly open and completing the project in several phases”, says Laine.
“Cities should consider whether cutting the street entirely would be a better option in order to speed up the works instead of spending several years implementing the project in small pieces”, Simonen adds.
Nonetheless, working hours during which project work is allowed have the biggest impact on the duration of street repairs. Laine says that working hours are quite restricted on weekdays. It may, for example, be permissible to only work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“If people were prepared to tolerate slightly longer working hours, we would be able to work in two shifts or over the weekend. My conservative estimate is that this would shorten the duration of street works by as much as 20–40 per cent, or several months.”
Street works sometimes also cause unnecessary nuisance when a street that has recently been repaired is broken again after a little while. Stockholm’s solution to this problem is that the city may issue an order that prevents breaking ground in the street again within three years. This encourages all operators to work together in a concentrated manner.
Helsinki will start testing a new operating model in street works in the city centre this year. The so-called Helsinki model is a part of mayor Jan Vapaavuori’s project started in 2019 with the aim of reducing the nuisance caused by street repairs. The model is based on closer cooperation between the parties of a street works project during the preparation phase of the project.
“The new Helsinki model gives us the opportunity to change our operating culture. Street works cannot be sped up by any single action. Instead, we must work on several different sectors to achieve a good end result in the spirit of the World’s Most Functional City. Good cooperation between the contracting parties is of the essence,” Vapaavuori says in a press release issued by the City of Helsinki.
Laine welcomes this experiment since it comprises cooperation that was already mentioned above as well as increasing cooperation between the parties. Forward planning would be another significant way of streamlining street works.
“Models of forward planning already exist between different parties, but they are sometimes inadequate under unexpected circumstances. In forward planning, all parties should commit themselves to a tight schedule, streamlined overlapping of their work and preparing for unexpected situations. This would allow us to respond more rapidly to any surprises found underground.”