If you haven’t traveled within 50 miles of Buffalo, N.Y., you may not have heard of Orchard Park, N.Y.-based paving contractor Holmes & Murphy Inc. Those who have been to or live in the area more than likely have either seen their concrete and asphalt paving equipment or have at least driven on a project completed by the company.
Keeping six pavers extremely busy every paving season, the family-run business has built a lasting reputation for delivering high quality, even on the most challenging applications. Their list of customers includes an impressive resume of the New York Department of Transportation, the Buffalo Airport Authority, the Army Corps of Engineers, the county of Erie and various other municipalities.
“Our philosophy as a company is simply to do the best job possible,” said Richard Holmes, president and third generation owner of Holmes & Murphy Inc. “We keep our employees happy, so they are willing and able to do their very best, and we give them the right equipment to successfully get the job done.”
That philosophy has been engrained in this business since its formation in 1917. The paving contractor traces its roots back to two friends in the farming business—Roscoe Holmes, grandfather of the current president, and Frank Murphy. “My grandfather’s uncle saw the potential in road building and gave them the push that they needed to start the business,” recalled Holmes.
With a handshake, Roscoe Holmes and Frank Murphy forged ahead for nearly three decades, completing heavy civil, bridge, airport and highway concrete paving projects. Its grassroots commitment to family and honesty has governed Holmes & Murphy through three and soon-to-be four generations of family leadership with Stephen Holmes, Richard Holmes’ son, joining the business. Throughout the decades, this philosophy also has shaped the direction and caused significant changes to what type of projects the contractor completes. In the 1950s, second-generation owners Carlton and Clinton Holmes, sons of Roscoe, saw the concrete road-building business trend away from the company’s business strategy.
“There was a changing dynamic for concrete roads,” explained Holmes. “Concrete paving was predominantly interstate work, and we did not want to be limited to those large projects.”
To stay true to its objectives, the company switched from concrete to asphalt paving and related earth and utility work.
While the company’s paving practices have switched periodically throughout the years, Holmes & Murphy likes to stay ahead of the technology curve. It employs the most advanced equipment available, so the crews have the best chance for success. “We welcome new technology, so we have the right machine for the job,” said Holmes.
This paving contractor also welcomes challenging and high-profile applications. Holmes & Murphy almost seems to thrive on challenging itself to tackle tough specification projects. One only has to look at the company’s work within a few miles of the Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) over the last two years for confirmation.
In 2004, the company completed a tough $12 million, 125,000-ton asphalt paving upgrade and lengthening of the airport’s crosswinds runway. The project required the use of a Federal Aviation Administration P-401 mix design that demanded disciplined placement to meet elevation and density specs.
Holmes & Murphy took a self-described “leap of faith” by purchasing a new Terex | Cedarapids Remix Anti-Segregation System paver to deliver a more homogeneous asphalt mix and eliminate any changes for material segregation, especially with the base mix’s large 2-in. coarse aggregate. This move paid off, since the new paver helped the company to achieve the tough 1?4-in. elevation tolerances and minimum 96% density specs across the mat.
A few miles from the airport, Holmes & Murphy tackled another high-profile project on Highway 33, paving a stretch of road known as the “Gateway to the City of Buffalo.” (See Strong Makeup, October 2005, p 30) They worked with the New York DOT to lay the first ultra-thin asphalt mat consisting of a polymer-modified binder. The mix design, with its 1?4-in. maximum aggregate size, was difficult to hand work, requiring the crews to pave the entire three-lane width of the highway at one time. Working in tandem so the joint would not cool, two pavers laid a 3?4-in.-thick lift a section at a time during the nighttime hours. This allowed the highway to open to traffic the next morning. For only $1.4 million, this successful project is anticipated to give the New York DOT an additional seven-year service life out of the 21 lane miles paved.
But arguably one of the most significant high-profile jobs for Holmes & Murphy marks the end of a 50-year absence from concrete paving. The company is currently in the middle of a two-year New York DOT concrete paving application on Genesee Street in front of BUF. Covering 1.5 miles and $9 million, the project includes excavation of the existing road, utility work and concrete paving of six traffic lanes, turn lanes, curb-and-gutter work, and snow storage areas.
Holmes & Murphy sees this project as a growing trend toward more concrete road surfaces for in-town roads. “In the past, there weren’t a lot of secondary or rural roads paved with concrete,” said Ed Denning, project manager for Holmes & Murphy. “But now we are seeing more whitetopping jobs and heavily traveled intersections paved with concrete.”
Before Holmes & Murphy returned to the concrete business, it needed a paver. So the company began an extensive process for evaluating the right paver for its operation. According to Holmes, “It’s the same as when we bought the paver for the airport runway job. We were looking for a concrete paver that would give us every opportunity to succeed.”
The contractor invited all manufacturers of concrete pavers to present their equipment and give the reasons why the paver would deliver a high-quality surface. “We asked a lot of questions and were very interested in how and why the machine was right for us,” added Denning.
Holmes & Murphy looked at a wide variety of slipform and automatic roller pavers. In the end, the company chose the heavy-duty Bid-Well 4800 concrete paver. “The Bid-Well is versatile, and we can use it on a number of road and bridge projects,” commented Holmes.
The tough keep coming
The 1.5-mile-long project in front of BUF posed several challenges along the way. With the road being heavily traveled and congested, Holmes & Murphy had to keep traffic flowing in both directions throughout the project. Many restaurants and hotels, in addition to the airport, line the busy highway, resulting in many underground utilities for the contractor to contend with. This made achieving the smoothness specification challenging.
A particularly difficult test comes in the form of paving the intersections of Genesee Street and the airport entrance and exit, one of which has already been paved. Holmes and Murphy’s crew have only a 72-hour window to complete these areas. “We are required to do everything from excavation and utility work to trimming and paving and have the road open for traffic within this time period,” said Denning. “If the road is not open, we face penalties of $500 and $1,000 for every 15 minutes we are over the time limit.”
For these pours, Holmes & Murphy used a “high-early” concrete that has an 18-hour curing window. This allows the intersections to be quickly opened to traffic. The majority of the 19,600 cu yd of concrete used in the project consisted of a New York DOT Class C paving mix with a maximum 3.5-in. slump and 6-8% air entrainment. The railed Bid-Well 4800 paver was set to a 36-ft paving width. “The paver gave us the capacity we needed to meet spec on this job,” said Holmes. “We can pave 36 ft wide, and the machine gives us more than enough capacity.”
On top of production, Holmes & Murphy was looking for a high-quality, smooth surface from the paver since it had to meet the DOT’s profilograph No. 2 smoothness spec. The paver’s patented Rota-Vibe system and dual augers helped the contractor meet this spec. Double flighting on the augers helped to deliver accurate concrete strike-off.
Bid-Well’s 11.5-in. Rota-Vibe on the 4800 paver provided a means of achieving a more uniform concrete surface with desired densities. Using vibration to prevent concrete from adhering to the finned rollers, Rota-Vibe mounts to the paving carriage and can be leveled horizontally and adjusted vertically. When combined with dual finishing rollers and pans, the 4800 delivers a very smooth surface. “The paver left little handwork to be done,” said Denning. “All parties are very pleased with the ride quality.”
In today’s corporate climate of quality and service taking a back seat to aggressive market expansion, the family-owned Holmes & Murphy remains somewhat of an anomaly. Rather than reaching beyond its original market area, the contractor prefers to focus on work within the 50-mile radius of Buffalo.
Rather than becoming too large to deliver the best work on a project, this paving specialist continually builds upon its reputation for delivering the highest quality possible. In order to ensure a quality job, the company focuses on keeping its employees happy, so they will give 100% every day. And a final component to this company’s recipe for success is having the right equipment for the job, one that will give them the best chance for success.