Study Haul

March 14, 2005

A $33 million new road construction project may be considered by the contractor as a medium-size or big project. It all depends on his viewpoint. Big, medium or small, however, the potential for a profit or loss resulting from carrying out a project this size is serious business. The chances of losing in seven figures are very real if the winning bid was unrealistically low or the management, equipment and manpower are not up to the task.

A $33 million new road construction project may be considered by the contractor as a medium-size or big project. It all depends on his viewpoint. Big, medium or small, however, the potential for a profit or loss resulting from carrying out a project this size is serious business. The chances of losing in seven figures are very real if the winning bid was unrealistically low or the management, equipment and manpower are not up to the task.

Lancaster Development Inc., the contractor for the new Judd Road Connector project near Utica, N.Y., did not make a mistake in its winning bid of $33.4 million, according to Mark Galasso, president for the corporation. The company also has a good work force on the job. What needed attention prior to starting this project, however, was the procurement of additional high-producing equipment, particularly articulated trucks.

The Judd Road Connector is being constructed for relieving high traffic flow in the towns of New Hartford and Whitestone and the village of New York Mills. The 4.5-mile stretch begins at the north-south arterial/Rte. 8 interchange and terminates at the intersection of Judd Road and Halsey Road.

Here is a short list of what the contractor must do in order to complete the contract: Excavate along the roadway alignment 900,000 cu yd of earth, followed by spreading and grading 115,000 cu yd of sub-base (gravel) and pave the four-lane roadway with 200,000 tons of hot-mix asphalt (HMA) Superpave. Ditching requires 70,000 cu yd of excavation. An additional 70,000 cu yd of ground excavation was necessary for building four temporary settlement ponds, which are used to capture the pumped water coming from wetland areas on the project. The settlement ponds’ function is to give the incoming pumped water enough time for the solids to settle out of the water so the cleaned water can in turn be directed to nearby streams. Wetlands mitigation is a very important environmental issue at this project, according to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT). NYSDOT is working very closely with federal, state and local regulatory agencies to ensure the wetlands are imposed upon in a minimal and environmentally acceptable way. The Federal Highway Administration has formally recognized this project as “. . .an example of a streamlined environmental process.” Funding for the project is coming from federal and state sources.

In addition to the road construction activities, the contractor is building four bridges. Nevertheless, the main challenge for the contractor has been dealing with the inherently wet soil conditions during excavation for the roadway. To exacerbate matters, the past 14 months have been unusually wet because of greater than average precipitation.

Scratch the scrapers

Despite the wet conditions, the contractor has been able to stay on schedule. In part, this has been made possible by the contractor’s selecting the hydraulic-excavator-and-articulated-truck method of excavating and hauling. Though the project is 4.5 miles long, the longest hauling distance between excavation and dumping is less than one mile. The rule of thumb is that scrapers can be economical as an excavation-and-hauling method providing the hauling distance is one mile or less.

There are other conditions to consider, however, if scrapers are to be used. One is the ground conditions (i.e., rocky soil). Another condition deals with how wet are the soils which must be excavated. For example, at this project the top brown silt loam that must be removed is up to 7 ft deep and contains at least 15% moisture, with much more when it is supersaturated from excessive precipitation. What worsens the wetness problem is the nearly impervious clay that lies directly under the silt loam. Essentially the clay acts as a water barrier so the ground water in the silt loam cannot drain. Subsequently, the top soil is virtually in a constant state of wetness thus precluding the use of scrapers.

Rating capacity . . . and more

The contractor wisely chose the excavator-and-articulated-truck method. The research conducted to select the best truck brand was far more comprehensive than most contractors’ investigations. It was objective, subjective and extensive. Founded just after World War II by August Galasso, the company has at all times been owned and managed by the Galasso family. Today, it is co-managed by Mark and his brother, Marty, vice president, who is in charge of all equipment and the company’s rock quarries and HMA plants.

The company has a philosophy that originated with August and it has been strictly adhered to ever since by the Galassos who followed: Leave the company to the next generation in better condition than when you assumed managerial responsibilities. Mark and Marty are no exception in following that concept. Leaving the company in better condition, in part, includes a fleet of reliable and efficient producing equipment. With that philosophy in mind, Marty, who is responsible for the company’s 150 pieces of major equipment, does not purchase any new equipment based on price alone. In fact, the purchase price is the last consideration, according to him.

This is born out by the fact that he had the opportunity to purchase the 11 new articulated trucks (needed for the road project) for $660,000 less than the brand he chose. “Do not misunderstand; I am very careful in watching where every penny goes and what it goes for. However, I am of the opinion that low purchase prices for equipment do not ensure that total costs accrued over its used life will also be low. In this case, I could justify paying $660,000 more for the trucks because by the end of their use in the company, the lower-priced trucks would have cost us considerably more in terms of poor reliability and inefficient productivity,” said Marty.

Here is how he established enough data on the different brand trucks to conclude value judgments on them. He invited four different equipment dealers to bring their respective 30-ton capacity articulated trucks to the company’s testing grounds for a one-day rodeo. Besides the typical venues found on such testing grounds where ground can be excavated and backfilled, it features a 1-mile unpaved roadway that is on grade with a 400-ft vertical drop (approximately 5°).

Each truck was weighed empty the day of delivery and then loaded with ground to its capacity. To ascertain the actual capacity load for each truck, they were once more weighed. The results of this test showed some trucks had a greater payload capacity then others, despite their 30-ton capacity ratings made by the respective manufacturers. With the trucks loaded, they were driven over rough terrain and the haul road. Each truck was then evaluated for fuel economy, cycle times, braking downhill and maintaining a safe speed while going downhill. The torque converter performance was evaluated as was the uphill maximum speeds maintained with the trucks loaded. Likewise, the truck’s transmission retarder performance was evaluated.

That was not all. Marty had some of his top mechanics (the company employs 14) evaluate each truck for its serviceability. Some of the company’s heavy equipment operators were rotated from truck to truck during the day to evaluate the ergonomics, driver comfort, handling and climate control efficiency.

Each manufacturer and dealer was evaluated for its reputation in shipping parts quickly and to a lesser degree on its quality of service. Marty said the company mechanics are capable of servicing the entire equipment fleet so he depends on the dealer’s service only while the equipment is in warranty. The equipment also was evaluated for its reliability by interviewing other contractors who owned the equipment.

In the end, the contractor chose Volvo. The other trucks had some features or performances that equaled the Volvo model, but none had all of them. For example, one truck did as well as the Volvo in the fuel economy performance but it was inferior to the Volvo in most other tests. According to the contractor, Volvo had the best on-board computer system; it made the best cycle times; it had the biggest payload capacity; it negotiated the 1-mile grade the best; its braking and retarding was superior; and the operators said it handled better and was more comfortable.

“The dealer L.B. Smith is the best of the dealers and our many years of dealing with this company promised us it would continue to have the best service and just-in-time parts deliveries. In my opinion, Volvo does not try to build the lowest-priced truck but the best truck it can,” said Marty.

The trucks have proven themselves at the jobsite by hauling excavated earth over very challenging wet ground. There is another piece of equipment that has improved production on this project considerably. Mark, who is in charge of construction, had Trimble GPS systems mounted on Caterpillar bulldozers. It is an automatic blade-control system that allows the operator to grade to specification by ±1 in. He also had special Trimble systems installed on Caterpillar motor graders with LPS blades that enable the operators to fine grade at ±1?8 in. The total cost for the systems was $500,000. “It seems like a big cost but we are getting all the profiling and road construction grading done in considerably less time than if the systems were not used,” said Mark.

It is a lot of money—$1.16 million extra to buy the GPS systems and articulated trucks. Nevertheless, Mark and Marty are convinced they made the right moves, and it is proving they were right by the productivity experienced at this challenging project. The project is to be completed by June 2006, but the Galassos believe they will complete it six months earlier.