When schedule, cost and quality are the line, state and local transportation agencies can rely on construction engineering and inspection—or CEI—service providers to make sure projects are kept on track and built according to plan. Virgil Rook, CDM Smith Construction/CEI practice leader, talks about the role CEI plays on transportation infrastructure projects big and small.
What tasks is a CEI consultant typically responsible for handling?
A CEI provider’s scope may vary. It can involve ordinary reviews of contractor compliance with federal employment and wage laws (such as Equal Employment Opportunity and Davis-Bacon) or more complicated tasks such as complete construction management of a project and administration of the contract. Other CEI activities generally seen on projects include document control and management, construction materials sampling and testing, construction schedule reviews, project management and utility coordination. The extent of services depends on the client’s needs and resources.
Some state agencies only need inspection services. In those cases, CEI consultants act as an extension of staff, performing the role of inspector alongside the client’s onsite field engineers. Other agencies may entrust CEI providers to interpret plans and specifications, execute construction change orders to correct issues on their behalf and to keep the schedule on target. Many municipal clients do not require inspection services but look to their CEI consultant for compliance support if their project includes federal funding.
How critical is CEI’s role in delivering transportation projects in accordance with expectations and schedule?
Inspectors are, ultimately, the last entity a client is dealing with on a project. They are charged with verifying the project is being built and closed out correctly by the contractor, according to the client’s specifications. This fact is critically important, because clients are expecting their projects have been constructed properly to avoid future maintenance and safety problems.
Inspectors are charged with verifying the project is being built and closed out correctly by the contractor, according to the client's specifications.
Advancing the schedule is another significant function of CEI. Clients face immense public pressure to complete projects on time and budget, while minimizing the burden on the traveling public and taxpayers. If inspectors can help the contractor expedite the job (while maintaining compliance and meeting requirements), it is always better for the client.
While challenges are bound to arise every day on construction sites, inspectors can keep projects advancing by initiating timely inspections, sharing independent observations on construction methods and communicating potential site issues promptly and accurately to establish an environment of trust and respect between the client, contractors and engineers. Ultimately, the best CEI is the most agile, ready and willing to respond to and resolve issues.
Looking back through your career, how can CEI contribute to worksite safety—for both project staff and the driving public?
While CEI consultants are often not contractually responsible for a contractor’s safety program or traffic control, good inspectors will urge the contractor to adhere to their safety plan. ‘Is your staff following Occupational Safety and Health Administration protocols? Is your staff wearing hardhats, vests and other required gear? Have you put up appropriate barricades to keep drivers safe from construction activities?’ If the safety plan is not being followed, CEI inspectors can step in and put a halt to work.
Safety is a major concern for me personally. If I see an issue, I am going to halt construction until it is resolved. The thing I always say—and what I instill in our CEI staff—is how important it is to do everything in your power as an inspection professional so that everyone gets to go home to their families at night, safe and sound.
How will inspectors help transportation agencies realize greater efficiency in the future?
Efficiency is huge. If more can be done with one person, then clients save money. In recent years, technology has created many efficiency opportunities—from smart phones and tablets, which can improve onsite communication and documentation; to drones, which are being investigated for their utility in bridge inspections and other construction-related tasks. CEI inspectors who stay up to date on new technological developments will be able bring them to bear for agencies.
Inspectors can also help clients be more efficient through planning. For example, if a local government wants to resurface all of its roads, CEI staff can assist them in inspecting the roads and identifying those that will fail in the near term. By leveraging CEI and asset management expertise, agencies will be better positioned to prioritize improvements while balancing limited funding and resources.