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Grading Firm Uses Topcon Technology to Relocate Road

A small-town airport runway needs to be extended to accommodate larger corporate jets.

Tue February 03, 2015 - Southeast Edition
Eric Olson

The job involves moving more than 450,000 cu. yds. (344,050 cu m) of material.
The job involves moving more than 450,000 cu. yds. (344,050 cu m) of material.
The job involves moving more than 450,000 cu. yds. (344,050 cu m) of material. The operator of the John Deere 700K dozer equipped with the Topcon 3DMC2 works on the 2:1 slope. The operator of the John Deere 700K dozer equipped with the Topcon 3DMC2 system enables Sowers Construction to move the dirt more efficiently, and bring a finished area to the final grade. (L-R) are Doug Lyons, Sowers Construction, operator of the John Deere 700K dozer equipped with the Topcon 3DMC2 dozer system; Richard Sowers and Mike Gaillard, Benchmark Tool & Supply. The operator of the John Deere 450D excavator loads the John Deere 400 artic truck.  Sowers Construction is using a combination of artic trucks and scrapers to move the material.

A small-town airport runway needs to be extended to accommodate larger corporate jets. As a result, an existing two-lane road has to be extended around the new airstrip.

That means that Sowers Construction Co Inc. has another big project to tackle.

Sowers Construction, a family-run business in Mount Airy, N.C., has been given the job of working as a subcontractor on the Holly Springs Road relocation near the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport.

The road must be re-routed because the airport’s 4,300-ft. (1,310.6 m) runway is going to be lengthened by 1,200 ft. (365.8 m). The reason is simple: several companies based in the area have corporate aviation divisions and the runway length doesn’t allow all of their planes to safely takeoff and land.

Sowers Construction has teamed up with the prime contractor, Smith-Rowe LLC of Mount Airy, on the project. Smith-Rowe will move the water lines along the road, as well as work on the erosion control and lay the stone, while Sowers is doing all the grading.

Work began on moving the road last summer and is set to cost about $4.9 million.

A Lot of Dirt and Rock to Be Moved

Richard Sowers, the company’s assistant vice president, said that the road being relocated is only a little over a mi. in length, but the amount of dirt and rock to be moved by his grading firm is voluminous.

“Our guys are moving about 450,000 cubic yards of material and taking it out to create erosion-control ponds and for use in building the road,” Sowers said. “Among the challenges has been the amount of rocky material at the site, which we have had to blast with dynamite.”

He added that there have been several 60 and 80-ft. (18 and 24.3 m) cuts to be made, as well as a corresponding number of 60 to 80-ft. fills.

Grading Made Easier

But one of the things that has made Sowers Construction’s job easier has been the use of a Topcon Machine Control (MC) system on a pair of its bulldozers — a system that assists the operator precisely controlling the grade.

“We are using the Topcon GPS system on two of our John Deere 700K dozers to increase our productivity on the job and to minimize staking and surveying,” Sowers said. “It helps us do our grading much more efficiently and cuts down on mistakes.”

Specifically, his company employs the Topcon 3DMC2 dozer system, which it bought through Raleigh-based Benchmark Tool & Supply Inc., the exclusive Topcon dealer for all of North Carolina, as well as upstate South Carolina.

“They are using it to cut the steep 2:1 slopes for several ponds at the job site,” said Mike Gaillard, the Benchmark representative in Concord that helped Sowers get outfitted with Topcon technology. “The slopes also have a 10-foot-wide bench about halfway down. They are able to grade their 2:1 slope, grade their flat bench and then get back down to their 2:1 slope again without having any stakes. The operator can see where he is at all times on the slope, which means that he can do the job without having somebody on the ground telling him exactly where to be.”

Sowers said that the Topcon technology “allows us to check our location to see where we need to cut and fill, and show our other operators what needs to be done.”

When Sowers started on the Holly Springs Road relocation, the Topcon system allowed the company to make a topographical survey, or topo, of the area from which the dirt and rock was going to be moved and after that another topo was done to measure how much material was actually moved.

Gaillard said that the Topcon GPS Rover is used to collect points in a 25 by 25 ft. (7.6 m) grid pattern.

“They can then create a surface from those points in order to know what the existing ground was before they started,” Gaillard said. “Then, once they finish filling in, say, 60 feet, they can then go back and do that same topo survey and now they know how many cubic yards they put inside a given area to get that 60 feet of fill.”

Gaillard said that Topcon simply offers a more accurate way of figuring out total cubic yards moved rather than using the old method of having someone in a truck counting the number of truck loads coming in and out.

After seeing Topcon’s expertise and precision up close, Sowers has been so impressed that he is thinking next about putting a system on one of his company’s excavators.

A Third Generation Company

Sowers Construction was founded in the 1960s by Richard’s grandfather, Bill Sowers. He had worked as a grader for another company before going out on his own, Sowers said.

“He started out grading yards and digging basements — just smaller scale work,” Sowers said. “When my dad, Rick, came on board they started focusing on bigger projects and expanding.”

Among the large projects that Sowers Construction has worked on is the Mount Airy location for Pike Electric, where Sowers graded the site for Pike’s office, shop and parking lot. In addition, Sowers did a job in nearby Danville, Va. where it graded a million cubic yards for a company building a furniture factory.

“We have also worked on several large landfill projects in Surry County and Carroll County, Va., as well as several Virginia industrial parks, in Christiansburg and Wytheville. We usually work in about a 90-mile radius of Mount Airy,” Sowers said.

The relocation of Holly Springs Road around the planned runway extension is just one of the first steps in the expansion of the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport. That project is scheduled to be completed in 2020 at a total cost of $22.5 million.

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