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Public works

What are considered to be public works?

Public works are construction projects that are sponsored and carried out by a government administration. Public works can range from infrastructure to buildings, and they arise from a direct contracting process or through bidding. These projects use public funds, and their main objective is for the inhabitants of the surrounding community to benefit from them. 

What types of public works are there?

As these sites are designed for general use, public works are classified into different types:

  • Public buildings: these may be related to health, education, offices, museums, and more.
  • Urban infrastructure: streets, parks, public lighting, gardens, etc.
  • Transport infrastructure: land routes (such as freeways, roads, or highways), maritime routes (such as ports and canals), air transport (such as airports),and rail (such as railways and train stations).
  • Hydraulic infrastructures: dams, distribution networks, sewage systems, water treatment plants, etc. 

How is a public works project carried out?

  1. The preparation phase. Every public works project starts by identifying a need the public has in order to close gaps and help the community. If there is an appropriate level of social profitability, the project is considered to be viable, and the technical file begins to be developed. The document provides specifications on the project’s descriptive report, as well as its technical specifications, plans, budget, reference value, schedule of progress, soil study, etc. This material is used by whoever carries out the project during planning and development. 
  1. The contracting phase. The budget allocated for public works is sponsored by a territory’s government. There are not always public construction companies to carry out a project, which is why it may be necessary to hire a private one. The hiring can be:
  • Direct contracting, where the government is in charge of choosing the company that will carry out the work.
  • Public bidding, which uses a public tender method where several private companies develop a proposal on the project that the government wants to develop. The offer that best suits the project’s needs in terms of execution time, budget, and quality is the winner of the bidding process. 
  1. The execution phase. Once the file has been approved and the company that will develop the project has been contracted, the work is carried out at the physical site chosen. In this stage, the contract is formalized, establishing administrative and technical clauses; the budget is paid to the company; and the work begins to be executed according to the schedule planned. There is constant direction and supervision until the contract ends. 

What is the difference between public works and civil works?

Although these terms are closely linked, there are small differences between public works and civil works that characterize and distinguish each. Public works are always civil since they include infrastructure, services, and buildings planned and executed for the benefit of residents

However, civil works may be public or private – that is, they can be sponsored by a non-governmental company and not be financed by public funds. 

What is the relationship between public works and the environment?

In construction, the focus is on the project’s durability and the least environmental impact; the goal is to build sustainable infrastructure that brings social, economic, and environmental structures together.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals suggest public works as a way to plan sustainable cities where actions can be carried out for the benefit of communities. A few examples include:

  • The Netherlands, where public purchasing includes issues regarding energy and the climate, materials and raw materials, quality of life, water and soil, biodiversity, and health and well-being for developing their public works.
  • Spain, which developed the Operación Asfalto (Operation Asphalt) project in Madrid in 2021. It focuses on implementing a decontamination treatment on public pavement by applying Stone Mastic Asphalt (SMA) mixtures, which are characterized by their greater resistance, sustainability, and durability. 
  • Canada, which developed a bidding model for building public highways that evaluates offers based on the costs of the highway’s entire life cycle, estimating the emissions of six types of pollutants and how to reduce their impact. 
  • Belgium, which carried out a study in 2001 analyzing the life cycle costs of two roads: one made with concrete and the other with asphalt. The conclusion was that, while the purchase price of asphalt is lower, the life cycle of concrete is longer. That makes the latter the more advantageous option in the long-term, so it is used as a material for this type of public works. 
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