Construction season returns with precautions in place for local workers

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT)– It is springtime which means it’s officially construction season in Wisconsin. Crews are hitting the ground running with some slight precautions because of COVID-19.

On the corner of Farnam and 21 St. South, crews are prepping the road. Their blacktop supplier is going to reopen for the season in early May.

“We’re trying to get ahead on these street projects so that way when they open we’re ready to go,” said Andy Bakalars, asst. superintendent of streets for La Crosse.

The Safer at Home order says workers can leave their home to perform any work necessary to offer, provide, operate, maintain, and repair essential infrastructure. That includes public works construction.

“We’ve been working with public health experts, local governments, stakeholders, business leaders to determine how to keep folks safe while continuing to provide essential services,” said Gov. Tony Evers, (D) Wisconsin, during a March 24th briefing.

Essential workers are still told to follow the CDC’s recommendations, like social distancing. Luckily, construction tends to be a more solitary job with just one person inside heavy equipment.

“We give them disinfectant wipes to wipe down the door handles and the steering because sometimes we have different drivers driving different trucks,” Bakalars said.

Sometimes, you have to leave the machine to work on the project.

“If there’s some handwork we tell them to keep six to 10 feet away,” Bakalars said.

Workers are also encouraged to wear a mask if they’d like to.

In some ways, the state’s policy has helped construction workers, for example, with street sweeping. It’s been easier to go around certain areas, like the campus, where classes have gone virtual and some students may have gone home.

“There [are fewer] cars on the street so we’re able to do a much better job of cleaning the streets up,” Bakalars said.

While people might be spending less time out and about the community, drivers and pedestrians are asked to remain cautious as crews head back to work on the road.

“These sites can be potentially dangerous…. sometimes manholes are out. Those manholes can go down several feet. If you see barricades, just take another street. Be safe,” Bakalars said.

The street department said crews will be working on a few projects over the next couple of weeks. But there are about three dozen more projects for the street and engineering departments scheduled for this year.