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10 Causes of Delays in Civil Engineering Projects

Delayed Stamp

Many civil engineering projects can be complex. This can especially be the case for the creation and approval of a land development plan that can have so many variables that could delay the start time of the actual construction of the project.

The following are ten common causes of delays in civil engineering projects involving land development.

1) Design time
2) Size of the project
3) Unexpected costs
4) Design engineers
5) Review engineers
6) Municipalities
7) Permits at the state level
8) Permits at the federal level
9) Septic design or service approvals
10) Recording of plans

1. Design Time

A common cause of delay in a land development project is the actual amount of time involved with the engineering design. What starts out as what should be a simple design that should only take a couple of days could turn end up taking a couple of weeks or even months.

One cause of increased design time could be that a stormwater management basin was designed based on an assumed soil infiltration rate that turns out to be less than expected after infiltration testing is done. In this case, the basin redesign of the basin would include revised calculations, revised grading of the basin, and possible revisions to the layout of any proposed buildings or paving in order to make the basin larger to meet municipality requirements.

Another cause of a delay in a project is the requirement for additional survey. It may not be until the middle of the design process that someone discovers the need for additional survey to complete the project. For example, the extra survey could be for additional information for a road the project is to tie into or it could be for the location of individual trees. A busy schedule of the survey company or survey department involved with the project could mean it could take a while for them to get the additional survey. This in turn could mean a delay in the project.

Related: How to Create a Land Development Design (In 12 Steps)

2. Size of the Project

The effect of the size of the project should be somewhat obvious. The larger the size of the site, the greater the area for which work has to be done. For example, a project area of 50 areas would require the design of a greater amount of grading and a larger number of stormwater collection pipes and structures than a site that is only one acre.

Also, there could be regulations that require extra permitting, and therefore extra work and time for the project, for a site that is above a certain number of acres.

A larger site could also increase the chances of having special challenges to deal with such as steep slopes, waterways, and wetlands. These are land features that could involve extra permitting or revisions to original design layouts that would be required to comply with particular regulations.


3. Unexpected Costs

Ideally, you would get a proposal from a civil engineering company to design the land development plans for a new construction project for a certain price. This may be the case for a lump sum proposal. However, you have to be careful with proposals that are estimates. A proposal of this type might also state that even though the company tries to do its best to keep the project at or below the budget proposed in the estimate, the company will also continue to charge for any extra hours that result in costs that go beyond the estimate.

If the total of design costs for a project turns out be much more than you anticipated, and especially if the total goes past some defined limit in your budget, you may have to delay the start time of the construction until you figure out a source of funds to pay for the extra costs.

Related: 10 Common Costs of a Land Development Project

4. Design Engineers

Something that could affect the design time of a project is who actually works on your project. A civil engineer with less experience will usually take longer to design something than an experienced engineer who has been doing this kind of work for years.

One thing to note is that even though the overall time involved with the completion of your project may be longer with a newer engineer, the total engineering design cost may turn out to be the same for either kind of engineer. This is because you would most likely be charged for the time of the newer engineer at a much lower rate than that of the more experienced engineer.

Related: 7 Common Charges of Civil Engineering Services

5. Review Engineers

Within the land development process, the opposite of the review engineers are the review engineers hired by municipalities to review and approve the technical elements of a proposed land development plan.

How quickly a plan gets approved can often depend on the personality of the review engineers especially when you consider how flexible some things can be in land development design. A more detailed and pickier review engineer could mean a longer review process than you could expect with a review engineer that is more flexible.

Since a municipality will more than likely use the same review engineer for all of the proposed projects located in that particular municipality, there is a chance the design engineer you hire will know who to expect to be reviewing the design plan. If your design engineer has worked with a review engineer before, the design engineer might have an idea of how simple or not so simple the review process could be for your particular project.

6. Municipalities

In a similar way that review engineers are different in the amount of flexibility they are willing to offer in their review of proposed land development plans, municipalities can also be different with regard to how flexible they want to be with approving plans.

Even though review engineers can approve the technical areas of a plan, the review engineer may work closely with the municipality and its associated planning commission or board members in approving the plan with regard to certain areas of the review. In some cases, the review engineer may even defer a decision about certain review items to the municipality for a final decision.

The land development process within a municipality with decision makers that are somewhat flexible with its role in the review phase might not be as long as the process within a municipality with decision makers that are not as flexible.

Related: Land Development Regulations (A Simple Guide)

7. Permits at the State Level

Even though you may have gotten through the municipality approval phase, there could be other outstanding permits at the state level that you have to obtain. Your municipality approval might even be conditional upon you obtaining these other permits.

The most common state permits include department of transportation driveway permits (required for a site to access a road owned by the state) and environmental permits (required for construction impacting certain land features such as waterways and wetlands).

The obtaining of these kinds of permits can delay a project because they will usually involve applications, plans, and reviews that are separate from those required for the municipality.

8. Approvals at the Federal Level

Another thing that could possibly get in the way of the start of your construction could be any approvals required at the federal level. What is probably the most known approval you might have to worry about would be an approval from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for any proposed impacts on the floodplain boundaries of regulated waterways. You might even be required to provide evidence that your proposed construction will not impact the floodplain boundary of regulated waterways.

Just as with permitting as the state level, obtaining an approval from FEMA as stated above could also involve applications, plans, and reviews that are separate from those required for the municipality.

Related: Floodplain Analysis (A Guide for the Non-Professional)

9. Septic Design or Service Approvals

The approval of a proposed onsite septic design or a public sewer service connection could also delay the start of construction. These items will most likely be reviewed by an agency that is independent of the municipality. Obtaining these approvals could be a condition of the municipality approval.


10. Recording of Plans

Once you do obtain all required approvals and permits, the recording of your approved plans could be one more step that could get in your way to starting construction. The recording of your plans by the local recording office is what makes your plan official and it could be a requirement for being able to start construction.

The recording of plans also may involve the signatures of various people associated with the approving municipality. Therefore, the sooner you can get these signatures, the sooner you can get your plans recorded so that you can start your construction.

Project Delays Can Be a Common Occurrence

Delays in civil engineering projects can be a common occurrence and should be planned for accordingly. Planning for at least some of these delays now can save you money later. You would also be able to help prevent scheduling unrealistic construction start times.

Related: Recommendations for Site Planning Books

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