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Highway Construction Delays

One of the biggest problems facing construction firms is delays. They are known to lead to many negative harmful results, such as lawsuits between contractors and owners, the loss of revenue and productivity, increased costs of projects, and even contract termination. There are various studies, which have been done on the causes of such delays. However, they rarely discuss common and general reasons delays in construction projects. It means that an inclusive study is very vital. It needs to center on specific causes of delays generally, because problems are rather contextual. Ineffective communication and insufficient coordination between the parties involved are termed as the major causes of delays in highway construction projects in Libya. Literature review and the use of a questionnaire were used to carry out this project. The paper will present survey findings aimed at identifying important reasons for delays in highway construction in Libya. The paper will also give actionable information and guidelines, which provide some information that leads to enhancing highway construction processes. 

According to the Economic Intelligence (2003), the Libyan highway construction industry contributes 2,1% to the annual gross domestic product (GDP), which is less in comparison to other industries, such as manufacturing or services. Nevertheless, this kind of growth influenced Libya’s economic development. It is because construction is considered unique, as it has the potential to stimulate the growth of other sectors of the economy (Hillebrandt, 1985). Therefore, to consider the development of the construction industry in terms of its GDP contribution is misleading, since it underestimates a crucial role that this field plays in other sectors. It means that improving the efficiency in the construction industry by cost effectiveness and timeliness will have a net effect of contributing to cost saving for the whole country. To effectively manage time and costs, efforts ought to be directed through investigating causes of delays in the construction of highway projects in Libya. Like in all other developing countries, including Nigeria (Elinwa & Buba, 1993; Okpala & Aniekwu, 1988; Mansfield et al., 1994), Malaysia (Yong, 1988) and Saudi Arabia (Assaf et al., 1995), the highway construction industry in this country is large, but volatile. Therefore, it requires a large amount of capital outlays. In this industry, there is a unique element of risk, especially in the manner, in which claims and disputes are interlaced through normal construction processes. It is normal for delays to occur in most projects, but their significance varies from one project to another.

According to Bramble & Callahan (1987), “a delay is the time during which some part of the construction project has been extended or not performed due to an unanticipated circumstance”. Delays can result from inside the contractor’s organization or from other factors referring to the project. Such incidents can be a result of factors facing a project. Some projects can be delayed for a few days, while others for one year or more. Therefore, it describes the actual causes of a delay for the purpose of minimizing them. Various studies have been carried out to evaluate such reasons in the construction industry. Studying Thailand as an example of developing countries, Ogunlana et al. (1996) has come to the conclusion that delays in developing countries can be divided into three groups:

  1. Shortage problems of the infrastructure of the industry, especially the supply of resources.
  2. Problems caused by incompetent contractors.
  3. Tribulations caused by consultants and clients.

A survey by Kumaraswamy et al. (1998) on the causes of construction delays in Hong Kong seen by all stakeholders (clients, contractors, and consultants) was done to examine factors affecting productivity. The results revealed that groups lack enough communication being a cause. Mansfield et al. (1994) studied the causes of delays in construction projects in Nigeria. The results showed that financing, poor contract management, improper planning, shortage of materials, and changes in site conditions were the most significant causes. Assaf et al. (1995) conducted research on the causes of delays in the building construction industry in Saudi Arabia. They found out that the important causes include delays in payment top contractors, in the approval of shop drawings, conflict in work schedules, change in designs, a lot of bureaucracy in an organization, labor shortage, inadequate skilled labor, and conflicts during the work of contractors. Mezher et al. (1998) studied the causes of delays in the construction industry in Lebanon from the point of view of contractors, owners and engineering firms. Contractors were found out to be more concerned with contractual relations, owners with financial issues and consultants with project issues as important reasons for delays. In Jordan, Abdullah & Battaineh (1999) assessed the progress reports of 28 highway projects and 164 building projects completed during 1996-1999. The results revealed that the average ratio of completion of highway projects during that period was 120.3% and 160.5% for road projects. A quantitative analysis was done by Al-Momani (2000) and presented a paper on the methods of assessing and computing activity delays. These methods had a set of equations, which could be coded into a computer program, and allowed a speedy access to project delay information. There was continued interest in the effects of construction delays and available information. However, despite the availability of diverse and extensive data, little has been done to describe literature sources concerning public construction projects. The already proposed factors causing construction delays are often observed in public projects. However, the fact that their actual magnitude and frequency is not known has been proven to be a serious problem for the industry.

Problem Statement

One of the main reasons for embarking on this research is undesirable previous project performance in Libya. In developed countries, research is usually based on the use of critical factors to monitor, control and ensure that the outcome of a project is predictable. However, this research is limited to developing countries, such as Libya. In this regard, the footsteps of developed countries are followed to assist in embarking on the research aimed at eliminating delays in the construction of highways. Nonetheless, to be able to determine the effectiveness and application of the existing research findings, it is important to carry out a study on the causes of such delays in Libya in order to find out the extent, to which the research on developed countries is relevant to developing ones, including Libya. To assist in addressing this problem, it is important to investigate the above factors that cause delays in setting up highways.

Aims and Objectives

The aims and objectives of this paper are to investigate causes of delays in highway construction projects in Libya as perceived by both consultants and public clients. It is done through a survey. It will give recommendations how to avoid future delays. The paper will further attempt to identify these factors and their probable occurrences, give suggestions and recommendations concerning remedial measures that are geared towards reducing or avoiding such problems in highway contraction projects in Libya. 

Therefore, the aims and objectives of this thesis are as follows:

  1. Finding out the reasons for delays in setting up highways.
  2. Finding ways of reducing delays.
  3. Making recommendations to avoid the reasons in future projects.
  4. Submitting questions to a number of people about their views on the reasons for delays.


The following hypotheses will be tested in this research paper:

  1. In Libya, the problem of highway contraction delays is notable and very frequent.
  2. Focus is mainly laid on operational, rather than managerial or strategic reasons.
  3. There is the tendency among involved parties to blame each other for delays.

Thesis Organization Breakdown Structure

This research has seven chapters that can be summarized in the following way:

  1. Chapter 1 includes the introduction stating the research’s aims and objectives. It also highlights the underlying principle behind the research and hypotheses
  2. Chapter 2 contains a literature review referring to highway construction projects and their nature, and gives the description of their performance around the world. It also briefly analyzes highway contraction in Libya, and the challenges it faces.
  3. Chapter 3 gives a brief history of highway construction in Libyan exploring projects through the literature review. It further attempts to illustrate a clear view on the definition of delays, and their types, effects and causes.
  4. Chapter 4 deals with methodologies and ways used in analyzing delays in building highways.
  5. Chapter 5 is a summary of research findings presenting a conclusion. Recommendations how to avoid further construction delays and how to work on further studies are also given here.
  6. Chapter 6 includes Appendix, which presents Questionnaire Sample.

Literature Review

The paper contains a detailed literature review and important background information, upon which the research is based. It also involves the past and current records that deal with the subject of highway construction, namely the Internet, lecturer works, conference proceedings, international project management journals and researches.

Country Background

Location. Libya is a country located in North Africa, in the south of the Mediterranean Sea. It borders with Chad, Sudan, and Niger in the south, Algeria and Tunisia in the west and Egypt in the east (Country Profile: Libya, April 2005).

Population. According to estimates by the U.S. government, the Libyan population countered 5,631,585, inclusive of non-professionals. About 500,000 sub-Saharan Africans were thought to be living in Libya. According to the 2004 census, the total population of Libya stood at 5,882,667, and the population rate was estimated to be 2.4 percent. The density of this vast country is approximately three persons per square kilometer. It is one of the world’s lowest population densities. However, the population is unevenly distributed with about two-thirds of it living in coastal places, especially towns. Libya’s indigenous people are the Berbers and people of the Arab origin. Approximately 17% of the population consists of foreigners and their families, especially those working as expatriates from sub-Saharan Africa and other Arab states. Although some Libyans have been still practicing the nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle, about 86-90% live in urban centers, including Libya’s largest towns of Tripoli and Benghazi (Country Profile: Libya, April 2005).

Size. The size of Libya is approximately 1,759,540 square kilometers. It is slightly larger than Alaska or about three times bigger than France is (Country Profile: Libya, April 2005).

Land boundaries. The country borders with Egypt (1,115 kilometers), Chad (1,055 kilometers), Algeria (982 kilometers), Tunisia (459 kilometers), Sudan (383 kilometers) and Niger (354 kilometers) (Country Profile: Libya, April 2005).

Length of coastline. Libya has sea borders on the Mediterranean Sea in the north, and its coastline covers the total distance of 1,770 kilometers (Country Profile: Libya, April 2005).The country’s territorial sea line extends to 12 nautical miles, closing a line of 32º 30' north (Country Profile: Libya, April 2005).

Topography. Along its Mediterranean coast, Libya has a narrow enclave of fertile lowlands with most of the country being a vast expanse of arid rocky plains. Coastal lowlands are separated from each other by a pre-desert zone, which is backed by steep plateaus and north facing scarps. Libya has only one true mountains, the Tibesti Mountains, that rise in the southern desert. Overall, less than 5% of the country is economically valuable (Country Profile: Libya, April 2005).

Principal rivers. Although there are no significant perennial watercourses, Libya is well-endowed with several perennial saline lakes. It has only one permanent flowing river with the length of 2 km, Wadi Kiam.

Climate. The dominant climatic influences in Libya are caused by the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea. The climate is Mediterranean along the coastal lowlands, characterized by mild winters and warm summers. The desert interior has extreme diurnal temperature ranges, including very hot summers. Temperatures range from 26° C to 32° C in the north of Cyrenaica and 40° C and 46° C along the Tripolitanian coast. A hot, dry and dust-laden wind called the Ghibli can change temperatures in the country from17° C to 22° C at any time (whether summer or winter) and can last 1-4 days. The country receives the negligible amount of rainfall (2 mm). Hence, it is not suitable for any settled agriculture activities. However, the Jabal areas located in the north of the country receive the annual amount of rainfall of about 381 to 508 millimeters. Other areas receive less than 203 mm of rainfall during short winter periods, usually causing floods. Winters are known to be very cold, sometimes below the 0° C mark, triggering snowfalls, especially in the mountains. During drought seasons, evaporation can be very high and severe (Country Profile: Libya, April 2005).

Natural resources. Oil and natural gas are Libya’s most important natural resources, which actually dominate the economy. The index of Libya’s proven oil reserves in 2005 is 39 billion barrels of oil and 52 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Other significant natural resources include natron (sodium carbonate), marine salt, gypsum, potash, limestone, and natural gas (Country Profile: Libya, April 2005).

Land use. Libya is a dry country, and only about 1.03 % of its land is classified as arable with only 0.17 % planted by permanent crops. 4 % of the land is classified as being suitable for grazing livestock, and the rest is considered to agriculturally useless. Most arable areas lie in the Jifarah region around Tripoli and the Jabal al Akhdar area around Benghazi (Country Profile: Libya, April 2005).

Environmental factors. Two of the most important environmental issues facing Libya are desertification and limited natural freshwater resources. The annual rainfall rate in Libya ranges between 200-600 mm. A manmade river, the Great Manmade River Project, has no long-term viability due to its finite nature of fossil reserves.

Time zone. Libya’s time zone is +2, 2 hours ahead of the GMT (Country Profile: Libya, April 2005).

Time Performance in Highway Construction

Highway construction projects involve several parties because of their interdisciplinary nature. For an employer (usually the public), time is of great importance, since the domain of the highway construction concerns the completion date. According to Ogulana et al. (2006), time is very important, since it interrelates with the actual cost of the project, the sequence of work, and direct or indirect money paid. As reported by Ogulana et al. (2006), highway construction projects usually include the relation between time and functions and the actual cost. It is because an increase in construction time relates to increased additional costs depleting company’s profits, or those of the client. Therefore, the suggestion is that the time delay will relate to the increased cost of the overall project.

Highway construction jobs, which are completed on time, are termed as being successful. Ogulana et al. (2006) agrees on this issue by suggesting that a project will be deemed to be successful, if the actual time for construction is less or equal to the one planned. Therefore, it is clear that time performance is a great criterion in respect to the client for considering the project to be a success.

Highway Construction Delays

Everybody desires to deal with a client, who will seek a short period of time to complete his or her construction projects. In their reports, Latham (1994) and Egan (1998) suggest that timely deliveries of projects with 100% predictability are one of the few needs of clients in the construction industry. It has seen contractors seeking the use of advanced technological tools and techniques in order to realize projects in contracts. Alternative procurement methods are employed to reduce highway construction delays, including the use of construction management, design-build-operate and build-own-operate-transfer project delivery methods, and project management (Tah & Carr, 2000). By the use of these approaches, the importance of time and cost in construction projects is emphasized. Nonetheless, there are frequent delays with both measurable and immeasurable costs.

Arditi & Pattanakitchamroon (2008) state that, “delay in construction can have a number of consequences in a project, such as late completion, lost productivity, acceleration, consequential damages, increased cost, and contract termination” (p. 242). Thus, it can be suggested that project delays have adverse consequences resulting into increased costs in the end.

Definition of Delayed Construction

As defined by Bramble & Callahan (1987), a delay in construction is the time, during which a part of the construction project has not been performed or has been extended due to unforeseen circumstances. Braimah & Ndekugri (2008) define a project delay as the total sum of all delaying events. Therefore, it can be inferred that a delay is a result of some disruptions or interruptions in the program of highway construction. Talhouni (1990) conducted a research on the associated effects of contract delays on productivity. He divided delays into two categories, namely disruptions and interruptions. The former are defined as sufficiently adverse conditions that can slow the project without necessarily bringing it to a standstill. Although disruptions do not affect the overall schedule of the project, they lead to construction delays. On the other hand, interruptions are an adverse state of affairs that causes the project to come to a standstill for at least an hour.

However, Kraiem & Diekman (1987) put forward an argument that delays can be categorized into three types compensable, non-compensable and excusable.

According to Ndekugri (2008), delays do not only result in financial losses to the contractor, but also expose the employer to some serious economic and financial risks, such as the loss of market opportunities and high interest rates. They can affect other activities set out in program because of the interdependence of the nature of highway construction. Arguing that a change in a project can emanate from many other factors, Creedy (2005) confirms that many of them are interrelated. It means that a delay can result from the slightest disruption or interruption. Any incident can emerge within the client, contractor, organization or any other chain that interacts with the construction project (Arditi & Pattanakitchamroon, 2008, p. 243). Usually, countless delay events caused by different parties result in delaying the whole project (Braimah & Ndekugri, 2008). However, it is a very complex matter that can create uneasiness in such projects. Braimah & Ndekugri (2008) point out that, “investigating how these events affect the various project activities and the contract completion date for purposes of justifying and quantifying delay claims has been a matter of the greatest difficulty”.

Arditi & Pattanakitchamroon (2008) add that one of the parties experiencing damages from delays, as well as the ones responsible for them, will need more time to reorganize themselves. It is common knowledge that when a delay occurs, some parties have to be responsible, and the cost ought to be covered in some other ways. Thus, it is vital to assess and resolve claims being a cause of the delay. However, it is seen as a challenge, because there are multiple parties involved in a delay, making the task of apportioning claims extremely difficult (Braimah & Ndekugri, 2008). Highway construction projects present the notion of delays as a form of risks. The latter are presented and characterized by their linear complexity with greater ones associated with delays that emanate from the ground level (Creedy, 2005).

Activity delays may not necessarily result in the same issues as project ones. Nevertheless, it can be argued that a delay in any single event in the construction industry can result into disturbing the overall performance and create unnecessary confusion among the parties involved. Talhouni (1990) has established that delays have a great impact on productivity. He further argues that construction project delays are the main cause of the loss of productivity resulting into the loss of time.

Delays in construction require one of the parties to take responsibility and be able to compensate for losses. It implies that the employer, the contractor, or neither party is responsible (Harris & Scott, 2001).  Compensation claims arise from the time lost, giving rise to a cost overrun as a consequential effect. Delays on the part of the employer will result into the contractor making compensation claims for prolonged project delivery time leading to additional overhead costs. However, if a delay is caused by the contractor, it can result in liquidated damages (Harris & Scott, 2001). The owner of the project should be paid compensation for any loss in benefits (profits) that may have emanated from the project completed according to the plan. The cause of delays in this kind of project will increase costs (Arditi & Pattanakichamroon, 2008). According to Ogulana et al. (2006), here, time is an important factor for costs evaluation in the construction project. It is a suggestion that time measurement has a bearing and direct effect on costs. As reported by Ogulana et al. (2006) construction time functions and interrelates with the actual cost. Therefore, an increase in it has a direct impact on an increase in additional costs eating away the company’s profit.

In the NEDO report, Othman (2006) argues that the success of a project depends on management efforts taken to complete the project in time. It is handy in the reduction and control of costs. As a result, Xiao & Proverbs (2003) also make the claim that a project delay has a severe implication on the cost and quality of work. Therefore, it follows that delays affect the overall success of the project. Rwelamila & Hall (1995) make an argument that the timely completion of construction projects is seen as a criterion for success. This view cements the fact that time in the construction industry is a factor that is used to measure success levels.

Highway Project Delays as Risks Leading to a Cost Overrun

According to the current literature, delays are a major factor causing a cost overrun, which is circumstantial and associated with claims. A cost overrun is defined as the excess of an actual cost in the budget. Therefore, it can be derived from the difference between the actual cost and the estimated one expressed as the percentage of estimated costs (Creedy, 2005). Determining that a delay is an existing cost in projects will aid in identifying possible solutions put forward to avoid overrun costs. Creedy (2005) conforms that the existence of overrun costs will lead to better control and even seeking of possible solutions to the problem.

Studies on overrun costs have gyrated on risk factors leading to them. Such authors as Creedy (2005) have generally hold the idea that highway construction projects are liable to many environmental risks, such as the complexity of the design and planning, the presence of other interest groups, and the economic and political environment. As a major construction risk, a cost overrun is often seen as a chill of apprehension. It is associated with negative implications for all stakeholders involved in the project. Other authors, particularly Mbachu & Nkado (2004), add that a cost overrun results into the loss of clients’ confidence. There is a suggestion that it can result in deterring the decision of the client to invest in the future projects.

Mbachu & Nkado (2004) found the following:

To the client, cost overrun implies added costs over and above those initially agreed upon at the onset, resulting in less returns on investment. To the end-user, the added costs are passed on as higher rental / lease costs or prices. To the professionals, cost overrun implies inability to deliver value-for-money and could well tarnish their reputations and result in loss of confidence reposed in them by clients. To the contractor, it implies loss of profit through penalties for non-completion, and negative word of mouth that could jeopardize his/her chances of winning further jobs, if at fault. To the industry as a whole, cost overruns could bring about project abandonment and a drop in building activities, bad reputation, and inability to secure project finance or securing it at higher costs due to added risks.

The study on cost overrun in 1449 projects was conducted by Morris (1997) in the 1980s. He reported that only 12 of these projects had been completed on time and within the budget. In terms of costs and delays, there was the minimal performance during the delivery of construction projects. In the 1990s, there was a repeated study on the total number of 3,000 projects, and he found out that they had similar trends. As accounted by Morris (1997), the World Bank conducted a similar survey on project performance and found out that 90% of projects suffered from delays. Cost was the major factor associated with project delays.

Increased costs in highway construction projects are usually seen as a form of risk associated with delays. Overrun costs have resulted into the loss of client’s confidence adding investment risks (Mbachu & Nkado, 2004). It shows that the global highway construction industry suffers from cost overruns that are a direct result of project delays. To clients, this implies that cost overruns are costs added to the agreed ones of the project (Mbachu & Nkado, 2004). It has the potential of endangering future tenders for the construction company. The client needs value for money invested. It has the potential to tarnish contractor’s reputation resulting in the massive loss of confidence by the client (Mbachu & Nkado, 2004).

Therefore, it is beyond reasonable doubt that a cost overrun caused by delays has negative impacts on both parties involved in the contract, often resulting in higher costs, claims or liquidated damages. It proves the correctness of Cormican’s (1985) perception that, “the building industry holds the record of lowest profits of any manufacturing industry and is usually top of the bankruptcy league”.

It goes without further ado that a cost overrun requires enough attention to identify factors associated with delays and look into possible means of eliminating or at least minimizing their occurrences in the delivery of the project.  

Summary of Highway Construction Delays

In the chapter above, project delays and associated cost overruns have been discussed. The paper presents a common view concerning delays in the highway construction industry and associated consequential effects through the literature review. It has been shown that the timely delivery of highway construction projects is of great importance in alleviating cost overruns and adjudging a project to be a success. It has been also emphasized that delays in highway construction projects are an unwelcome gesture, both to the owner and the client. It is because delays are associated with financial losses to the contractor, the client and/or the consultant, and any other party concerned.

Delays in Highway Construction

The term “delay” has been mentioned many times in the previous chapter. A cost overrun in highway construction and the success of project delivery are closely matched with the emphasis put on this term. Thus, a construction delay has other consequential effects, where cost is regarded to be the most paramount. The main aim of this chapter is to discuss in detail delays, their types, causes and consequences.

Definition of Highway Construction Delays

Highway construction delays can be described as a failure to deliver the whole project before the time stipulated in the contract or rather doing so after the expiry of that particular time. According to the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2009),a delay means “to make something happen at a later time than originally planned or expected; to cause someone or something to be slow or late; to not act quickly or immediately”.

A construction delay can also refer to the time length, during which a part of the construction project has been extended or not performed as a result of an unanticipated circumstance (Bramble & Callahan, 1987). However, it will not necessarily interfere with the delivery of the project as stipulated in the contract. In case the time used during the extension of the project ends up affecting the overall time required to have the project completed, then the term “delay” will refer to the definition given by the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. This opinion is also in agreement with the definition by O’Brien (1976) and Gani (2008) that a delay is a time overrun beyond the contract or agreed date of the delivery of the project.

All the definitions above are in agreement with the statement that the project has been delivered, but the time for its delivery, contracted or agreed upon, has been not honored. Thus, the delivery of a construction project may not necessarily be adjudged as a success.

Classification of Delays

There is no precise classification of project delays according to the current literature review. However, it can be done on basis of circumstances, under which a delay occurs. In his research on project delays associated with productivity and working time in construction, Talhouni (1990) classified delays into the following:

  1. Interruptions. These are adverse circumstances, which bring work to a complete halt for at least half an hour, which result from interference on the part of other crews due to sequencing of work.
  2. Disruptions. These are circumstances, which are sufficiently adverse to slow the performance of the project down, but without bringing it to a standstill. They potentially arise from a shortage of materials or a need to wait for further instructions or buildability.

Kraiem & Diekman (1987) argued that delays could be classified into three categories, namely:

  1. Compensable delays. A delay is deemed to be compensable to the outworker (contractor), if its cause is within manageable limits, and it is caused by a fault or negligence of the owner. It suggests that a delay arises, when the associated substantial impact is a failure to act. This circumstance is customarily considered to be a means of recovering the consequential extra cost incurred as a result of the delay.
  2. Excusable delays. These are circumstances, when the contractor is deferred by incidences that are neither attributable to the owner or the contractor. Instead, they are attributable to circumstances, which do not result from negligence or fault of any of the two parties. As it has been stated by Kraiem & Diekman (1987), excusable delays occur, when the contractor is deferred by incidences that are attributed neither to the owner, nor to him. These are circumstances referring to the nature, such as adverse weather conditions, earthquakes and others. They cause a construction program to run behind schedule. Alkass et al. (1995) cite that excusable delays allow the contractor to buy additional time, usually defined in the conditions of the contract. The extension of time can be considered as an excusable delay that occurs, when occurrences are beyond contractor’s control (Othman, 2006). Though it may be granted, the tendency for the overall project to be delayed cannot be ruled out.
  3. Non-excusable delays. These are delays resulting from contractor’s individual actions and/or inaction. These can be a fault of the contractor or his workforce, subcontractors, materials, or supplies. The former does not qualify for the awarding of any additional time under circumstances of non-excusable delays, should construction run behind schedule. It gives the owner an opportunity to recover delay costs. The owner can get delay compensation from the contractor, when a circumstance is deemed to be a non-excusable delay. Often, the latter bears responsibility for pushing the construction program back to the required run. However, if he fails to bring it back to the required schedule, it potentially entitles the owner to make an application for liquidating damages.

Causes of Construction Delays

In the construction industry, it is generally known that some events and situations are obvious and not easily foretold. Construction work has quite a unique nature that makes it susceptible to severe changes in the weather (Arditi & Pattanakitchamroon, 2008), as well as unforeseen site conditions. As a result, anticipated or unanticipated delays stem from these unavoidable and unforeseen conditions. If they are deemed to be beyond the ability of the parties involved to control, they will be classified as excusable. In contrast, Ogulana et al. (1996) carried out studies in Thailand and concluded that delays in highway construction projects are mainly caused by contractors. It follows that a thorough survey conducted by Majid & McCaffer (1998) on causes leading to delays has concluded that non-excusable delays comprise fifty percent out of the total. In this finding, contractors are found to be responsible. Delays in construction have taken a new dimension, pointing the finger at the project management domain. Its influence is perceived to affect construction greatly.

According to Ogulana et al. (2006), Chan & Kumaraswamy (1996), and Kaming et al. (1997), if resource and schedule planning, and control and supervision, which are site management practices, are poorly handled, they will become contributory factors to overruns of time. Human and management problems, for instance, financial arrangements, a shortage of materials, inaccurate estimates, poor contract management, and finally price fluctuations, have also been listed as factors causing construction projects to delay (Mansfield et al., 1994). Delay problems arise because of their poor management in the construction industry.

Therefore, construction delays are complex circumstances. Situations that cause them are generally regarded to be complex in nature (Aditi & Pattanakitchamroom, 2008). The fact that construction delays are a result of many circumstances, involving a number of stakeholders, making it quite difficult to justify and quantify an individual’s effect on the delaying of events during the duration of the project, makes them seem to be a challenging issue and an extremely difficult task to cope with (Braimah & Ndekgri, 2008).

Design variation. It is the major cause of delays at the construction stage, which is normally initiated by clients. The study carried out by Creed (2008) suggests that, in an average, 50% of delays are caused by changes in the design of highway projects. On the other hand, Morris (1997) points out that the contribution of design variation to cost and time overruns ranges from 50 % to 70 %. In addition, there is an argument by Harris & Scott (2001) that the delay of the project is not caused by all changes made in the contract. It therefore follows that some changes do not affect resources or the duration of the project, but involve minor details, which can only affect the manner, in which work will be done.

On the contrary, Morris (1997, p. 61) suggests that, “it will be much harder to bring  a project in on time, in budget and to technical specification if the specification keeps changing while one is building the product-but is often unavoidable”. In other words, it will be an extremely difficult task to complete the project on time, if there is constant changing of the design at the construction stage. Depending on the extent of variations, there will be a potential impact on the time given for the completion of the project (Ankitoye, 1998).

To avoid design variation, there must appropriate feasibility studies, as well as the provision of adequate time for planning what exactly is desirable in construction. It is therefore very prudent for consultants to understand and appreciate the requirements of their clients.

Focusing on design variation, Morris (1997) states the following:

A project will be in great danger of encountering serious problems if its definition is not right and is not developed properly, standards, technical base and general strategic planning are inadequately considered or poorly developed, or if its design is not  firmly managed in line with its strategic plans. (p. 218)

Wrong schedule predictability. Schedule prediction serves to indicate time needed for the completion of the construction project, which enables proper planning of the future projects by clients and stakeholders. However, project prediction has been described by the construction industry to have a lot of predictability problems. It is obvious that 100% construction predictability is expected by clients, since it is seen in other manufacturing industries (Egan, 1998). However, one of the causes of project delays is wrong predictability arising from the wrong construction schedule, for instance, when the time planned is less than the one, at which the project is delivered.

In contrast, time overruns are not limited to estimates of construction, but also to other factors relating to the complexity of the project, technological requirements, the requirements of the contract, its efficiency, market requirements and project information, duration and risks (Enshassi et al., 2005).

Therefore, the duty of professional estimators is to be precise during the preparation of estimates (Asworth, 1999).

Industry culture. Historically, the construction industry has faced much criticism for its poor performance in the delivery of projects to clients. It is normally associated with overruns of time and cost. There have been many opinions concerning the operation of this industry with some arguing that it is a unique undertaking and having no idea of how a project can be done in time. Others think that a delay has nothing to do with work itself, but it is typical of the construction industry. Latham (1994) and Egan (1998) state that the construction industry can change, and their recommendations have helped many of those, who have received them, achieve their targets in terms of cost and time.

Rework. It is defined as “the process by which an item is made to conform to the original requirement by completion or correction” Ashford (1992). Rework can also be seen to arise from errors, omissions, damages, failures and design variation during the process of construction. The design process has a great influence on the construction schedule, quality, cost and estimates, which are not limited to the identified above. Love & Sohal (2003) note that rework has invariably led to time and cost overruns, since it has become an endemic feature of the construction industry.

Statistically, rework accounts for about 35% of construction delays and 5% of construct costs (Abdul-Raham, 1995). Apart from potentially leading to construction delays, it has a dramatic effect on the timely performance of projects (Love et al., 2003). In addition, it is suggested that design variation is commonly associated with rework and, in most cases, is responsible for construction delays (Cox et al., 1999). Forms of rework are easy to prevent, since poor management of the design and construction process is a cause of such occurrences.

Buildability / constructability. There are many definitions of buildability, but the subject matter is construction delays. The CIRIA (1983) definition is adopted. According to it, buildability is “the extent to which the design of a building facilitates ease construction” (Wong et al., 2007). Consequently, the time and efforts should be saved due to the ease of construction, leading to shortened schedules, which will also make it possible to avoid construction delays.

The time spent on means of constructing, rather than that used in the process of construction itself, partly contributes to delays. It often results from the inexperience of the staff and the complexity of work. In the 1960s and 1970s, they had detrimental effects on buildability, which included construction delays. The latter came about, when the design and construction had disintegrated (Emmerson, 1962; Banwel, 1964; NEDO, 1975). The buildability concept is related to how the construction process is influenced by designers (Chen & McGeorge, 1994).

Poor communication. Good communication  is one of the key tools that must be used in order for construction to be successful, while poor one leads to failed construction projects due to the lack of effective information flow. In other words, information is supposed to  flow accurately and rapidly between the parties involved. Ogulana et al. (2006) suggest that failures in projects are partly due to ineffective communication. In addition, Love et al. (2003) note that contractors should be provided with the right information, since they act as managers of the production process. In this way, they can manage their subcontractors effectively. It is argued that there will be a delay, if communication is incomplete, inappropriate or conflicting.

Walker (1995) stated that, “construction time performance can be improved through effective communication within the project team and effective use of information technology”.

Weather and unforeseen circumstances. Adverse weather conditions are a reason for excusable delays, which allow the contractor to extend time. Besides, neither the contractor, nor the client will be to blame for the delay (Arditi & Pattanakitchamroon, 2008). In addition, Mezher et al. (1998) identified circumstances associated with weather as the primary cause of construction delays.

Shortages of materials and equipment. The current and past literature reviews reveal that some delays caused by shortages of equipment and materials were caused by, but not limited to, poor estimation, specification, and a change in the scope (Ballard, 1994; Creedy 2008, Mezher, 1998; Talhouni, 1989). Mezher et al. (1998) adds that delays caused by the lack of materials may be a result of slow delivery, damaged goods and quality or storage problems. Delays being a result of a shortage of equipment may be due to a delay in the delivery of the right equipment, its breakdown, and using the wrong type of equipment.

Ballard (1997) carried out the research on the implantation of lean construction, where he found out that a shortage of materials was the main reason for impeding work progression.    

Clients, Consultants and Contractors

It is worthwhile noting that most factors that lead to project delays are just human ones, caused by the client, owner, contractor, project managers, and subcontractors. According to Braimah and Ndekugri (2008), “delayed completion of construction projects is generally the result of a myriad of delay events caused by multiple parties”.

Delays on the part of clients are seen to be essential to all parties involved because of their influence on the project. Mbachu (2004) notes that clients generally have a challenge as far as decision-making is concerned. Morris (1997, p. 61) argues that, “it will be much harder to bring a project on time, within a budget and according to technical specification, if the specification keeps changing while one is building the product”.

Delays on the part of the consultant stem from poor management, a delay in design, misinformation, and poor communication. Other factors include constructability, inappropriate design survey data, inadequate time, and variations initiated by the client. Mbachu (2004) notes that there should be “sufficient time for proper feasibility studies, design planning and information documentation before tender invitations”.

As far as contractors are concerned, they are mainly blamed for the majority of construction delays, as they bear the weight of managing activities on the spot. Highway project delays among contractors can be a result of constructability, inexperience, managing of subcontractors, wrong information, relationships with clients and consultants, and supply chain management (Arditi et al., 1985).

Consequences of Construction Delays

Consequences of highway construction delays vary depending on how severe or how big the size of the contract is. According to Arditi & Pattanakitchamroon (2008), delays can result into lost productivity, increased costs, contract termination, and the late completion of the project, consequential damages, and even the acceleration of the project. It means that there will be lost value in terms of costs, as well as tarnishing of the names of the parties involved.

Claims and disputes. In the construction industry, they are seen to be contentious issues, and are a major risk. Hughes (1985) argues that claims are the most controversial and may be the most difficult matter that affects relations in this industry. They are defined as matters that arise from the contract provisions being dependent on what happens during construction. Assessing claims after they have happened is a tedious task. Hughes (1985) says that claims are means, through which the contractor rescues in a real tender.

Hughes (1985) reports that defining claims as a substantial effect of delays concerns looking for an additional payment. However, Harris & Scott (2001) report that changes can be made to a contract, since claims are disagreements between the parties.

Claims can result into a restriction of cash flow, financial difficulties or total embarrassment of employers, although they cannot be measured in a standard form of payments. Arditi & Pattanakitchamroon (2008) argue that the entitlement to compensation can be acceptable by the owner, while the contractor settles for delay adjustments.

Inflation. There is a common saying that time waits for no man. In Libya, as in all other countries, there is inflation, which can fluctuate depending on the prevailing circumstances. Inflation may affect delayed contracts negatively or positively. However, the former case is more common and is often associated with increased costs increasing the overall cost of the project.  

Contract termination. The contract has terms and references referring to delays that can lead to its termination. However, it varies from one contract to another depending on the type of it deployed.

The termination of the contract is usually the last action after all procedures to ensure that construction has failed. Circumstances leading to it include the fact, when the contractor does not appear on the spot for a certain number of days specified in the contract. Such conditions empower the owner to terminate it.

Methods of Analyzing Project Delays

There are various reasons for analyzing delays caused by the parties involved, namely the engineer, client, valuer and contractor. The nature of construction delays may be a result of various factors that make it very difficult to analyze the scenario, making it more complex. According to Braimah & Ndekugri (2008), the investigation into the events that give rise to construction delays is the main reason for justifying and quantifying delay claims. It conforms to the notion of Arditi & Pattanakitchamroon (2008) that allocating the responsibility for delay events is often difficult, since it involves one party gaining, while the other losing. Analyzing such construction project delays is often seen very complex, as there may be no direct causes, but a lot of other factors. Alkass et al. (1991) cite that, “assessing delays after the fact can be a particularly onerous task, so it has been suggested that time impact analysis should be completed during the project”.

All over the world, there are many delay analysis methods, which can be used to quantify projects. Harris and Scott (2001) state that there is a critical path method used in the UK to try to understand whether it is a contractor, who has created circumstances leading delays.

However, a simple method of analyzing delays has not been identified yet, otherwise there can be immeasurable benefits of assessing them. This view agrees with Scott & Harris (2001) stressing that the difficulty of assessing claims may be sensible.


From the analysis given above, it is clear that delays in the highway construction industry pose a great risk with major loses for clients, contractors, consultants and other parties involved. Consequences associated with them are seen as claims by the contractor and as liquidated damages by the owner, and generally as disputes by both sides. Apart from affecting the parties involved in a contract, it depicts a bad picture of the whole highway construction industry, especially in terms of performance. The effects of such delays will embarrass the owner and even lead to potentially terminating the whole contract. It has the potential to affect any future projects ordered by the client and even straining any business relations between the two parties.

Analyzing delays in Libya can be seen from different perspectives. The above views of different authors are similar in relation to one fact that the analysis of delays is not just a simple review of circumstances. It is rather a standard approach that should be used to analyze delays in the construction industry.

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