How hot does it get working on top of one of the bridges of the Springfield Interchange Project?
"It feels like you've got a 104 (degree) fever," said Al Casasola, a bridge foreman for the project. Casasola has been working construction for 22 years, and he said he's gotten used to the being outside in the brutal heat each summer, sort of.
"We're used to it, because we've been doing it for so long. For us to be in the sun, our tolerance gets better," he said.
That doesn't mean Casasola and members of his crew don't get a little worn down by the constant exposure.
"If it's 94 on the ground, it's 110 on the decks," he said. "When the sun hits the deck panels, it goes straight to your body."
Working on the Springfield Interchange Project, one of the nation's largest-scale and longest projects, at eight years, $676 million dollars, means working through weather conditions of all kinds.
"Unfortunately, it's the nature of the beast — in the summertime, we roast our butts off, and in the winter, we freeze our butts off," said Ben McKenna, structural superintendent for Archer Western Contractors, the general contractor for Phases VI and VII of the project, which includes a majority of the bridge construction.
ARCHER WESTERN has approximately 155 laborers working on the project. This is the second summer its workers have been on board, and weather reports say temperatures have been slightly higher than normal. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the average temperature for the month of June was 73.6 degrees, 2.5 degrees warmer than the past 41-year average, and the fourth-warmest June during that time period. July was even hotter, and drier, with the NOAA reporting less than an inch of rain in both of the last two weeks of the month.
"The worst of the summer heat is six to eight weeks. For those periods of time, there are adjustments made," said Danny Costello, Archer Western's regional safety director. One of those adjustments is altering shifts to get workers out of the heat.
Typically, workers start their shift around 5:30-6 a.m. and run until 2-3 p.m. When the mercury climbs close to 95 degrees, and the heat index is well over 100 degrees, the company changes its plans.
"You start working guys in that kind of heat, their productivity starts to go down," said Costello. To adapt, when forecasts call for extreme heat, he advises foremen and superintendents to plan accordingly and shifts are pushed forward, to begin at 3:30-4 a.m. and end by noon.
"They want their men to be safe and productive," he said.
Recent work on a bridge connecting I-395 South to I-495 East has involved pouring the concrete to form the road surface.
"Being out in the heat is enough, but if you're working on a bridge deck, you're higher up and getting a lot of reflected heat," said Costello.
Workers on the project perform a variety of tasks, from laying pipe and pouring asphalt to erecting steel on bridges. Nothing's hotter, though, than being 100-plus feet above the ground with nothing to offer shade from the sun.
"You start early, so you can acclimate yourself, take whatever breaks you need," said McKenna. Other ways the construction workers find relief are wearing light-colored, loose clothing, finding shade on a break, and drinking plenty of water. Each sub-crew is provided a 10-gallon cooler of ice water at the start of shift, which can be refilled as needed.
"Sometimes we go through a couple of them," said Casasola.
One other tip from McKenna: "It's important, when you're on lunch break, to loosen your clothes a little bit, even take your shoes off."
Of course, being acclimated to weather means enjoying other small pleasures, like rain.
"A nice shower also helps. On Friday, most of the guys didn't even get out of the rain. They were already soaking from sweat, so it was a nice refresher," said McKenna.
The bottom line, however, said the workers, is that the project needs to get done, and they are the men to do the job.
"You've still got to do the work," said Costello.