Dear Alderwoman, I did not enjoy my drive through a construction site in your ward. Plz advise.
September 20, 2009 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Engineers, construction workers, and lawyers: How can I find out what the specific site safety requirements and statutes are for an under-construction commercial urban development site? Specifically, I'm looking to find out more about site-safety requirements in the city of St. Louis, Mo.

I'm especially seeking information that might shed some light on what might be required in the way of erecting barriers, fences, and signs to keep the general public safely off roads and paths leading into construction sites.

Here's the specific circumstance that prompted this question:

Headed north on a local highway in the dark, amid a light drizzle, I took a city exit I'd never taken before. I soon I figured I'd best find a way to get back on the highway. I made a quick right at the first light I reached, then turned right again at the next light after that, hoping it might take me right back around to the highway on-ramp. (A look at Google Maps when I got home suggested that that's exactly what this road originally did.)

Unfortunately, the road quickly turned into an unlit, half-paved drive, surrounded by overgrown brush. The drive narrowed as I crested a small rise—only to find myself at the edge of a vast expanse of muddy gravel. The street, it seems, currently dead-ends in a vacant lot behind an under-construction Walgreens. The only way out, since this was a one-way street, appeared to be driving toward the already-constructed parking lot. So I drove slowly across the gravel, headed for the parking lot—only to find myself stuck in the mud right next to what turned out to be a new curb. After a series of fits and starts, I finally got my car unstuck—and came down with a big crunch on the other side of the curb.

Hyperventilating, I parked next to the building, where the light was better, and got out to check the car. Nothing creaked or popped or looked obviously broken, so after moving a traffic barrel blocking the new parking lot's only entrance/exit, I made my way back to the highway and drove home.

This morning, I moved my car and checked the pavement where I'd been parked, and saw several fresh oil spots. This car is only a couple years old and has never leaked anything in the time I've had it. So I took a flashlight and peered under the car, and it looked like the plastic cowling protecting the oil-filter area had come partially dislodged. I couldn't see anything else that looked obviously damaged, but clearly I'm going to need to take this in to the shop tomorrow so they can put it on the lift and repair the cowling and/or the oil-filter cap/gasket and/or anything else that might've been damaged.

Hence my initial query. I'm trying to figure out what recourse, if any, I have in terms of recovering damages in this situation (perhaps via small-claims court?)—and making sure it never happens to anyone else. I can't believe they don't have that street blocked off.

I plan to contact that ward's alderwoman first thing Monday. But I'd like to have something concrete to cite in my conversations with her and/or anyone else I have to deal with about this explaining what's wrong with the site, especially since the builder of this development is a very large company.

I found a few sections of the Missouri Revised Statutes that look as though they may apply: 319-035, 319-040, 319-041, 537.346, 537.348.

I also uncovered slides from a PowerPoint presentation on ANSI's A10.34 standard (Google's cached html version here), which, although only a voluntary-adoption measure, still provides some sense of what the baseline standards for construction-site public safety should be. The very first requirement listed? "Restricting public access to the jobsite – a site security plan." Along those lines, best practices listed include "100 percent fencing of the project site," "Use of easy to read signs," "Daily inspection of fences, locks and gates," "Daily inspection of traffic control devices," and "Night lighting or security service." The area of the site I ended up driving into had none of those things: no fences, no gates, no roadblocks, no signage, no lighting, no security.

So...are the statutes I uncovered relevant? Is this ANSI standard relevant? Does anyone know of anything more specific I should be reading about or anyone else I should be contacting at this point? Thanks for any help anyone can give me with this!
posted by limeonaire to Law & Government (16 answers total)
Response by poster: And yes, I understand that YANAL and/or YANML. Any pointers or nudges in the right direction you might give me, though, would be greatly appreciated.
posted by limeonaire at 1:59 PM on September 20, 2009

I'm afraid I can't direct you to specific codes. I can report that in my experience the level of measures taken to restrict and notify of a job site varies widely in practice and is mostly dependent on the owner and contractor's shared comfort of what might happen. In rural areas it isn't unusual to see nearly no notification, although I'd expect some barrels and a sign if they did indeed close a formerly through road for this.

In any case you should absolutely contact the contractor and owner of the site. They have insurance for this sort of thing and it sounds like their lack of lighting and and signage directly led to damage or reasonable suspicion of damage to your vehicle.

As an aside, don't be surprised if they do question you a bit about your actions (like if you might have been drinking). Just respond directly and steer back to the real issues. I do know that there seems to be a relationship between intoxication and people wandering onto construction sites I've been associated with, including someone accidentally driving through a delivery bay and out onto a nearly completed sports field through a large building. So people do some crazy things. Just point out the lack of lighting and clear markings.
posted by meinvt at 5:07 PM on September 20, 2009

Were you driving through the muck while on the city street or did you enter the property of the Walgreens and then proceed to bang up your car?

If you never left the street and your car got messed up then you need to contact the city and follow any procedures they might have for filing a claim to be reimbursed for whatever damage your vehicle sustained.

Now if you left the road and damaged your vehicle on private property then that's a whole other can of worms. They very well could have had signage up that was moved by another motorist who found themselves in the same situation as you. If you went to them and complained, they could feasibly call the police and report you for trespassing. If you damaged any section of work they had completed, your insurance would need to pay for the work to be redone.

I've been witness to this happening so don't believe it can't. Construction companies are not liable to light city streets if they are not working on them, nor do they usually tear up entire portions of roadway to build a Walgreens. This could be two separate projects in close proximity to each other. You very well could have been on private property when you turned onto the roadway.

Could you provide a link to the area in question via google maps? or provide an address of the area in question? I'm interested in seeing the area in question without seeing the new construction.
posted by Gravitus at 5:42 PM on September 20, 2009

Response by poster: meinvt: I had not been drinking before this occurred. I specifically declined to drink last night, in fact, due to a sore throat. The only extenuating circumstances would be that it was dark and rainy. This took place just after 8 p.m. yesterday.

Gravitus: You can see a map of the area here. I turned right from Lafayette Avenue onto S. 14th Street, which the signage there indicates to be one-way. The area was so dark, I didn't realize I could've turned left onto Soulard Street, and quickly found myself on what technically looks to be Hoehn Street. What the map calls Picker Street no longer exists; it's part of the field of muddy gravel I found myself confronted by.

I'd never been to this neighborhood before, and had no prior knowledge of construction taking place there. As far as I knew, at this point, I was still on 14th Street, which the sign said was one-way. At the point where the road ended, there was nowhere to turn around, and the area was so brushy and dark, I didn't want to risk backing around that tight a turn. What if someone else made the same mistake I did and came up behind me as I was backing up? So I drove forward across the area that used to be Picker Street, toward the new Walgreens parking lot. That was the only way I could see to leave the area. Unfortunately, it was, again, so dark that I couldn't tell that there was a curb ahead.

Again, to be clear: There was no signage indicating that this was a construction area, nor any lighting along the portion of road Google Maps indicates to be Hoehn Street. The closest lighting was at the far end of the completed parking-lot area. A construction trailer on the parking lot and incomplete signage on the building itself, plus the fact that the only entrance/exit to the parking lot was blocked off by traffic barrels, indicated that this was an area under construction—but again, I didn't see these until I had already crossed into the parking lot.
posted by limeonaire at 6:05 PM on September 20, 2009

Response by poster: what technically looks to be Hoehn Street

And by the way, I saw no signage to indicate that S. 14th Street had turned into anything else.
posted by limeonaire at 6:08 PM on September 20, 2009

Response by poster: Also, if it helps, I discovered the following earlier today: This is an aerial view of the site about three months ago, as seen from the perspective of Lafayette Avenue. So you can kind of see what I'm talking about—that little loop of road at the back is what I now know to be Hoehn Street. (I did not see that little side road out, though, or I certainly would've taken it.) The area right around the building is now parking lot; the trailer and electrical poles on the back of the lot are no longer there, as far as I could tell. But this photo definitely belies the idea that these are two separate tracts; it looks like the entire expanse is the domain of Walgreens and/or this construction company.
posted by limeonaire at 6:18 PM on September 20, 2009

Response by poster: If you damaged any section of work they had completed, your insurance would need to pay for the work to be redone.

As far as I know, I didn't damage anything except my own vehicle. The field I drove across is completely open and empty at this point.
posted by limeonaire at 6:20 PM on September 20, 2009

From the two maps you linked, I would definitely crawl up the construction companies ass, after I talked with the city. It's hard to tell if the roads that are no longer there were just private roads that had been named, but from the layout they most definitely should have had the site access closed off either way.

Call the City building department and speak with someone there. Try and get an inspector that has been on the job site previously so they are aware of the location and the access to it. Don't call the construction company until you've talked to someone else not associated with them.

The inspectors have a professional relationship with the construction company and if you go to the construction company first, they might well call the inspector and say some crazy person did x,y, or z in the process of driving on the property. By calling the inspector first, you have the chance he/she goes over to the site and see's the current conditions, not a quick fix the construction company will do if you call them first.

Good luck with it. I would call my insurance company though and see what they can do. They might handle the whole conversation for you. /shrugs.
posted by Gravitus at 6:37 PM on September 20, 2009

It's a Walgreens. THey're like cancer - you think cancer cares about relevant statutes? Definitely call the general contractor first thing - if you can, head down there in the morning and take pictures of your tire tracks.
posted by notsnot at 9:12 PM on September 20, 2009

BTW, those streets have always been there - long before 44 and 55 were put in (the area was my grandparents' stomping grounds). The houses on those blocks have only been razed in the past five years.
posted by notsnot at 9:16 PM on September 20, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips. I definitely read up on the Bohemian Hill area over the weekend. Seems like just about every big real-estate blogger in town (Ecology of Absence, B.E.L.T., UrbanReviewSTL, etc.) wrote about the development when it was in the planning stages, so I got a lot of useful background from that. Interestingly, most of them were in favor of it, if a bit suspicious, and the developers actually worked with the community to address some of their concerns early on, even going so far as to change the layout of the Walgreens portion. Unfortunately...they didn't seem to think about the fact that someone might drive through a site that close to the highway.

You know what the most ridiculous thing is? I'm an investor in Walgreens. I found myself going there more and more in the last few years and thought, "You know, I should get some money back out of this." So I bought stock. So any fist-waving I have to do about this construction site comes with that in the background—like, come on, you couldn't get this right?
posted by limeonaire at 5:42 AM on September 21, 2009

Response by poster: Heh. Well, attempting to talk to the inspectors' office about it, since I don't actually know the specific street address of the development (and nothing in any of the articles online mentions that, either), proved a dead end. They wouldn't even accept that I could tell them exactly what corner it was on. Now calling the alderwoman...
posted by limeonaire at 6:32 AM on September 21, 2009

Response by poster: And...she's out of the office until Friday, September 25. AUGH!
posted by limeonaire at 6:33 AM on September 21, 2009

You're professional enough looking to try this: head to MSD on Market at Jefferson. Make a right into Engineering. Bluff your way into looking at the sewers for the property , or out in Layfayette. there "hasn't been" an address assigned yet, of course...which is what you need to find. When you look at the plat books, you can see what addresses were assigned.

Another trick that might work: you know that large, North-is-right City map that a lot of bars have (the Royale is one)? it has city blocks marked. Often, that's enough information to get you into trouble.

Yeah, I work in construction.
posted by notsnot at 9:07 PM on September 21, 2009

Response by poster: Ha, nice. I can actually manage to look even more professional when the situation calls for it, although I'm not sure I'm brave enough to attempt this.

Poking around online, though, I also found this ordinance, which lists all the addresses that used to exist, as well as the numbers of the city blocks they occupied. Most of them I've checked so far turn up at very least mention of the original demolition permits. Maybe by trial and error I can find the right one. I know it's on the even side of the street, occupying most of what used to be the 1500 and 1400 blocks of Lafayette.
posted by limeonaire at 5:40 AM on September 22, 2009

Response by poster: Although weirdly, searching for 1512 Lafayette yielded only the permit for demolition of 1542–44. I'm not quite sure what's up with their online records.
posted by limeonaire at 5:45 AM on September 22, 2009

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