- The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has had to overcome a challenging learning curve while building the 13-mile, $800 million Southern Beltway toll road, one of the largest such projects the agency has seen in decades.
- The commission has faced two primary obstacles thus far: flooding associated with excavation work and the mitigation of abandoned oil and gas wells along the project's route. Joseph B. Fay Co., the beltway's general contractor, has racked up approximately $1.3 million of change orders to stabilize soil ($550,000) and deal with a dozen more wells ($778,675) than originally estimated. With the addition of a retention pond and other flood control measures, the effects of water runoff have been minimized. In addition, Fay engaged a specialty subcontractor, York Drilling, to perform well mitigation, and the commission has hired a company that will use metal-detecting drones to scout for additional wells along the project path.
- Despite the extra costs associated with additional work, changes are in line with other commission projects valued at $500 million or more a year — about 3%. Brad Heigel, the commission's chief engineer, told the Post-Gazette that changes for the overall industry come in at 7%.
Construction crews often don't know enough about the ground of a project site and what's underneath it until they actually start work. Contractors still have to take reasonable care when assessing a site prior to a bid, but if conditions are significantly different than what is presented in the owner's bid documents, a construction company is likely entitled to a change order that reflects those differences.
Still, the contract dictates which situations are reimbursable through change orders, and it's up to the contractor to protect its interests and make sure such a provision is included or is part of a proposal that is incorporated by reference into the contract.
The most recent American Institute of Architects Document A201, "General Conditions of the Contract for Construction," lays out that by signing the contract, contractors are affirming that they have visited the construction site in question, familiarized themselves with local conditions and reconciled their observations with the contract documents.
Contractors are also under obligation to report any inconsistencies between what they encounter during an examination of the site and the project documents to the architect. They must also inform the owner and architect immediately of the discovery of any site conditions that are not normally found during the course of a construction project. Contractors must be sure to meet any contractual requirements regarding site conditions in order to make a successful change order request for additional costs.