Not quite the ultimate, yet. The locals in central Florida are grumbling. The $2.3-billion, 21-mile highway project through the heart of Orlando, known as the I-4 Ultimate, is experiencing some serious PR problems. At least four deaths, 160 reported injuries, a grinding construction schedule, route changes, orange-coned bottlenecks, seven-figure change orders, and fines have Orlando residents fuming.
The misgivings led one TV station to make this the lead of one of their stories: “Two things are all but certain in Central Florida: Humid summer days and construction on I-4.” But local news outlets aren’t the only ones taking notice. The project, and all the problems associated with it, made The Wall Street Journal in late May. And not one byline on the story, but two.
Highway construction is never painless, but what makes the I-4 Ultimate stand out are the players involved, the money being spent, the environmental ambitions, and the delivery model being used. The I-4 Ultimate is the biggest public-private partnership in Florida history and one of the largest road projects in the country. According to the Florida Department of Transportation, a consortium was formed to “… design, build, finance, and operate the project through a 40-year P3 concession agreement ….” In other words, toll roads. Equity members, according to FDOT, include Skanska Infrastructure Development and John Laing Investments Limited, two of the leading brands in the business. You don’t entrust a $2.3-billion project to just anyone.
While we’re sure the road will be finished, one day, no one knows if the project, which began in 2015, will be done by the announced completion year of 2021. And if things do go terribly wrong from here until then, those stuck in the traffic and paying the tolls – at least a few of the really vocal ones – will blame it on the public-private partnership and the “fat cats” in Tallahassee. P-3s haven’t completely caught on in the United States yet, so if the I-4 Ultimate tanks for some reason, or if it’s been perceived to have tanked, that could shape the way the greater public – and the state legislators they vote into office – thinks about the delivery method. In an era of crumbling infrastructure and shrinking federal dollars, P-3s are seen by many, but certainly not all, as a way to leverage private dollars for the public good. What happens in Orlando, good or bad, will probably influence the conversation moving forward. Should be an interesting next few years in central Florida.
Window Washers. We’re sure you saw the crazy footage of the window washers being blown about as they attempted to do their job at the top of the 50-story Devon Tower in downtown Oklahoma City. The clip even made it to CNN which, considering the network’s obsession with presidential politics, is news in and of itself. The window washers were eventually rescued, but not before they presumably watched their lives flash before their eyes.
The whole episode got us to thinking. What’s life like washing the windows of the architectural and engineering marvels of the modern world? With office towers growing taller and taller, and increasingly being sheathed in glass, the business of washing the windows, it would seem, would be trending upward. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, that is indeed the case. But in that same story, a window-washing contractor says his employees make as little as $17 an hour. At a fast-food restaurant or a cinema, that’s good money, but for spending each day working dozens or even hundreds of feet in the air, that ain’t much.
And consider the stakes. A brief review of US Department of Labor statistics tells a grim reality for those unfortunate window washers who make a mistake, or who are the victims of failed equipment. This from the last few years of OSHA accident reports: Employee cleaning windows falls and is killed; Window washer falls from 10-story building and is killed; Window washer is killed in fall from fourth floor ledge; Window washer falls and dies from injuries.
You get the picture. So, the next time you see a gleaming office tower or gaze out at the silhouette of a skyline, just remember that there’s an army of folks out there who keep these buildings clean, and that they do so under hazardous conditions and for meager wages.
Wheels of Justice. Sometimes it’s slowly, but they always seem to turn. The New Jersey engineer who was popped for bilking the state out of about $4.6 million in bridge contracts finally surrendered his engineering license to state authorities this spring.
That, of course, after the guy was handed a suspended sentence, three years of probation, and paid $250,000 in restitution back in 2017 for falsifying bid documents to make his firm seem more qualified than it really was. During his five-year campaign of scams, from 2011 to 2016, the engineer represented an employee as a degreed professional with plenty of experience, when in fact the employee was nothing more than a high-school graduate who had never worked on a bridge before. He won four contracts and got away with it, but on his fifth try, investigators nabbed him.
The engineer, Chetan Shah, is barred from entering into any public contracts for five years.
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