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Walsh set to ease ban on construction work in coming weeks

The city will allow some projects, such as major housing developments, to resume, as along as they comply with safety requirements.

The Winthrop Center tower site in downtown Boston on March 17, just before work was halted.
The Winthrop Center tower site in downtown Boston on March 17, just before work was halted.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The City of Boston is getting ready to let construction work resume.

The Walsh administration Tuesday outlined plans to gradually restart many building projects over the next few weeks, with work on most so-called “essential” projects — including large housing developments — able to get underway by the end of the month.

In a memo to contractors and developers, the city’s chief of operations, Patrick Brophy, laid out dates when projects can resume, as long as they file detailed COVID-19 safety plans with the city. Site work, to prepare for a return to construction, could begin as soon as Tuesday. Certain projects — road and street work, hospitals, and small residential projects — and open-air work such as digging foundations and erecting steel can start on May 18. Other state-defined “essential” projects, which include large housing developments, can resume on May 26. That, Brophy wrote, should give contractors time to design safety plans and train their workers in them.

Projects that don’t meet the state’s definition of essential — such as office buildings or hotels, for now — will not be able to go forward until the state eases its restrictions, Brophy wrote.

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Construction has been largely halted in Boston since mid-March when Walsh — who was a longtime leader of the region’s building trades unions — became the first big-city mayor in the country to shut down job sites over coronavirus safety concerns. The move stopped the city’s long-running building boom nearly overnight, and threw thousands of construction workers out of work, though it was widely hailed by the city’s unionized building trades and at least grudgingly accepted by developers. Cambridge and Somerville quickly followed suit — and projects there remain shut down — but Governor Charlie Baker resisted calls for a statewide shutdown, saying that many essential projects should continue if they can do so safely.

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In the weeks since, large construction companies, unions, and the city have been working on guidelines to safely restart, and as those have taken shape, the Walsh administration has signaled an increasing willingness to re-open. Industry experts expect construction will go ahead at a slower pace, with fewer workers on site and far stricter safety guidelines. But, they say, it can be done safely and needs to be, so that billions of dollars worth of projects can be finished.

The city plans to closely monitor construction sites to make sure safety precautions are being followed, Brophy said, and will launch a construction industry coronavirus testing site with Tufts Medical Center at the Josiah Quincy School in Chinatown.


Tim Logan can be reached at timothy.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.