The objective of this Rapid Response Research (RAPID) project is to identify new challenges and determine factors impacting workforce decision-making processes in the transportation construction industry under COVID-19 pandemic uncertainties. Never in the history of modern transportation infrastructure construction, has the industry had to adapt to a nationwide threat to their workforce and changing public health guidelines and constraints. How are workforce managers seeking to operate, maintain, and construct lifeline transportation infrastructure projects without risking the safety and health of their vital resources (workers, operators, engineers, fabricators, and project managers)? Workforce decision makers are dealing with a daunting task. The public expects no disruptions in receiving critical infrastructure services in these challenging times. And more importantly, the public expects limited risk of virus infection while using these critical infrastructures. COVID-19 continues to have substantial impacts on workstyle in the transportation construction industry. The pandemic challenges threaten the operations of transportation infrastructure systems that are facing ever-increasing impacts of weather-related disasters. Yet, transportation infrastructure construction and inspection cannot be delayed. Transportation infrastructure is essential to not only fulfill the daily needs of human beings but also combat the COVID-19 outbreak. The success of this research is contingent upon the collection of time-bound data on the workforce managers’ thought processes during the COVID-19 pandemic. This project will not only enhance the science of decision making under pandemic uncertainty, but also provide critical information for the transportation construction industry regarding best practices during a pandemic and effective strategies for adapting to the uncertainties emerging and evolving from this unprecedented event.

Because of the exploratory nature of this research, PIs will use a combination of methods, such as surveys and follow-up interviews with key informants in state transportation agencies, to identify new challenges of workforce decision-making during the COVID-19 pandemic and determine factors impacting decision-making processes. Supporting documents will be collected from the key informants following the interviews (e.g., collecting and analyzing their revealed choices manifested in COVID-19 actions, organizational COVID-19 daily updates, internal operations memos, and public news) for further content analysis. The PIs will assemble a variety of questions that enable a thorough investigation of critical factors impacting workforce decision-making in the unique pandemic condition. These factors will include major pandemic issues, such as essential versus non-essential operations, construction site shutdown (planned or unplanned), project suspension at any stage of construction (for a designate or unknown period of time), restarting construction, project continuation, suspension, and delay, expedited construction operations to take advantage of the declined traffic and receive early completion incentives, and occupational safety policies (social distancing and wearing N95 masks). Employing the ephemeral empirical evidence rigorously collected in this RAPID project, the PIs will be able to examine and model the risk preferences of workforce decision makers under pandemic uncertainties. Successful identification of the factors impacting decision-making processes will be critical for the develop of a novel multi-attribute utility choice models that capture the risk preferences of decision makers in the transportation construction industry under pandemic uncertainties. Revealing factors impacting decision-making processes will pave the way to inform workforce policies under pandemic uncertainties. The findings will be disseminated widely through the creation of easy-to-understand and practical educational materials that are integrated with the research components so that they can improve each other. This project will also engage underrepresented students from diverse backgrounds in research activities.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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University of Texas at Arlington
United States
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