Evaristo Cruz Jr. estimates that there are no more than a dozen or so construction firms throughout the United States with expertise in micro-tunneling. The short list includes his own company, JRCRUZ Corp. of Aberdeen, N.J.
Cruz defines micro-tunneling as using computerized tunnel boring machines to create tunnels 100 in. (254 cm) or smaller in diameter. The process minimizes the need for open trenches and thus greatly reduces traffic disruptions. And perhaps nowhere is micro-tunneling more in demand than New York City, where the need to upgrade aging, underground infrastructure conflicts with the need to keep millions of people and their vehicles moving as smoothly as possible.
NYC lies roughly 40 mi. northeast of the JRCRUZ offices and is the site of some of the company’s most noteworthy projects. For example:
• For the Fort Hamilton project, JRCRUZ installed a 96-in. (244 cm) diameter sewer line to replace a smaller one to ease a flooding problem in Brooklyn. The new sewer was then connected to a large-diameter brick sewer about 100 ft. (30.5 m) under the surface, so the company needed to build a caisson, or underground work chamber, just above the brick sewer to facilitate the work.
• In another Brooklyn project, JRCRUZ used sophisticated technical innovations in the building of two large chambers above brick sewer lines to improve the handling of combined sewer overflow.
“We had to deal with other utilities that were in our path, and there were plumes of contaminated soil in the vicinity of one of the chambers, so the soil could not be dewatered because that could have spread the contamination,” Cruz recalled. “We needed to use extensive grouting techniques instead of dewatering the soil.”
The company’s ability to successfully complete such difficult projects does not surprise industry insiders.
“They specialize in very difficult, heavy underground utility work, and they aren’t afraid to take on the really challenging tasks,” said Jeff Merle, vice president of machine sales at Foley Inc.
Merle noted that Foley Inc. has worked with three generations of the Cruz family in the construction business over the past 50 years.
“During that time, they’ve always been innovators in the industry,” he said.
First Things First
Because of the relative rarity and inherent difficulties of micro-tunneling, Cruz ranks project engineering, staffing and equipment on his list of challenges.
First and foremost is manning the job sites with knowledgeable, reliable hard-working employees.
“They give us a big advantage in getting the work done efficiently and well,” Cruz said. “Just like in any other field, you can find good workers and not-so-good workers. We make a point of finding the best people.”
The emphasis on good people also is evident to onlookers. “The folks at JRCRUZ hold themselves to really high standards for their work, and they are very ethical people. That combination is greatly appreciated by their customers,” Merle said.
The team-building starts at the top, where Cruz, who serves as president and CEO, works closely with Phil Hui, executive vice president of estimating and engineering, and Carlos Catao, vice president and field superintendent in charge of field operations. The three had worked together at Cruz’s father’s firm, Cruz Construction Co., before joining together to form JRCRUZ Corp. in 2001.
“Along with the many others who quickly followed, we felt we had a proven team and a solid foundation for success and growth,” Cruz said.
The JRCRUZ team has grown to about 80 employees, including Cruz’s son, David Cruz, who joined the company soon after its founding and now oversees the firm’s equipment and job site resources.
The Right Iron
Cruz also stresses the need to have the right equipment for the job and keeping it well maintained.
“You certainly don’t want to take on a project with the wrong equipment because that will cost you big money. You could get yourself into a financial jam that you can’t get out of,” he said. “We analyze the productivity rates of our equipment to ensure that we’re working as efficiently as we can.”
JRCRUZ addresses its concerns for both machinery and people by turning to Foley Inc. The JRCRUZ fleet of heavy equipment is almost entirely Cat, with more than a dozen wheel loaders, including 950s, 966s and 980s, as well as a dozen Cat hydraulic excavators, including 320s, 345s and 365s, and several Cat 446 backhoe loaders.
“We get better performance from Cat equipment; we think of it as the ’Mercedes’ of construction machinery,” Cruz said. “And when we ask our operators for feedback, the response is that the Cat machines are their favorites.”
He also pointed to the resale value of the Cat equipment.
“It holds its value well.When you want to sell a piece, there are no problems moving Cat machines compared to other brands.”
Importantly, Cruz said, “The equipment comes with an excellent support system from our Foley representative, Scott Warren, and the team at the dealership. They’ve always been there whenever we need them.”
He added, “We rely on Foley Inc. for quick parts supply and technical support, and we get it. Any advice we need to maintain our fleet, they have it for us.We also do a lot of preventive maintenance work through Foley. They analyze our oils to help us prevent expensive problems and keep our machines up and running.”
Although micro-tunneling is a core part of the JRCRUZ success story, the company does not own any tunnel boring machines (TBMs).
“We lease them,” Cruz said. “It’s more cost effective to lease these machines when we need them rather than waiting for a job to come around that suits our equipment. Unlike a backhoe that can be used for many types of jobs, a micro-tunneling machine is limited to a particular kind of job.”
Looking to equip his crews with the most productive equipment available, Cruz usually leases the TBMs from a supplier in Germany.
JRCRUZ stays busy throughout New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, and micro-tunneling accounts for about 20 percent of the work, with the remainder consisting of open-cut utility projects and general construction.
With its emphasis on high-quality people and equipment, JRCRUZ has quickly become a major competitor in the region for heavy construction projects ranging in size from $10 million to $100 million.
If the company has a low profile, it’s only because much of it best work is done underground.
This article was republished with permission from Paydirt magazine Spring 2011 issue.
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