September 7, 2022

Have you ever driven through a construction zone and thought to yourself: Why is there always someone wearing a white hard hat in these zones, seemingly just standing there? I remember riding in the car with my family as a small child and hearing my parents ask that question. I’m not saying the question struck me to the core and made me devote my entire life to becoming that individual—that guy in the white hard hat—but I am here to tell you why that person is one of the most important elements throughout a construction project’s life cycle.

Vital Intermediaries

Project standards and specifications consist of hundreds of design drawings and pages of text that outline detailed and specific methods of construction and means of compensation. Therefore, there are often discrepancies between the owner and the contractor concerning the standards and specifications during a project. Along with serving as document control specialists, Construction Engineering & Inspection (CEI) professionals are the all-important mediator that work between the two groups to help them come to an agreement.

The role of CEI staff starts with knowing the project plans and specifications all the way through the project lifecycle so they can interpret them for the contractor ahead of performing the work. All of this adherence to the specifications is done meticulously through the document-control process. This includes simple details such as the temperature, if it’s sunny or raining, the number of crew members employed by the contractor, what equipment is being used, who visited the site that day, as well as what was installed and where it was installed. All these details paint a clear picture of the entire life cycle of the project. This information is invaluable if a contractor falls behind schedule.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the recent projects Gresham Smith’s CEI staff is tackling in Tennessee:


  • Cusick Connector Road – A temporary road being constructed for a new Amazon plant on the future Alcoa Parkway corridor.

  • I-440 Design/Build – Teaming with HDR, we oversaw the 24-hour, nonstop construction for the improvements to I-440 around Nashville.

  • NW Connector Water and Sewer – This relocation and betterment project is installing approximately 10,000 feet of utilities along the new NW Connector in Crossville.

  • Metro Nashville On-call Permit Assessments – Our staff monitors ongoing projects for permit compliance around the metro area.

  • Cherahala Boulevard – The extension of the boulevard consists of a three-lane section that runs parallel to Pellissippi Parkway (I-140) to provide an additional route to the interstate and help alleviate traffic in Knoxville.

  • Duplex Road – The widening project improves safety and traffic capacity, while also enhancing the aesthetics and pedestrian use of this 3.2-mile local collector roadway in Spring Hill.


Jack of All Trades

While this is not a complete list of our current projects, it shows the variety of work we perform. Our Transportation market is dependent on our CEI staff to have knowledge of every type of project that can go to construction.

Sure, in the office, we have our groups to perform design of roadway geometrics, drainage, signals, ITS, bridge work and more. But when it’s time for construction, our CEI group must have the certifications and expertise to make sure that each of these assets are inspected and tested to work per the designs, making their management and oversight absolutely critical. Now, next time you find yourself driving through a construction zone and notice an individual in a white hard hat, you’ll know how critical their role is throughout a project’s life cycle.