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Texas Highway Project Benefits From Attachment

Wed July 01, 2009 - West Edition
Lori Lovely

Zachry Construction Corporation, a privately owned construction and industrial maintenance service company based in San Antonio, began working on a Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) project in the fall of 2006. The $90 million contract centers on reconstruction of the north side of the 410 loop around the city.

The Connally Loop named in honor of former Texas Gov. John Connally and called simply “Loop 4-10” by locals, is a 53-mi. (85.3 km) inner beltway around the city. Due to a significant increase in traffic, the TxDOT initiated the project to widen and repave the north and west section main lanes, service roads and bridges.

As the second-largest city in Texas, San Antonio has a population of more than two million, based on the 2008 U.S. Census estimate. According to the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau, the south Texas city annually attracts 26 million tourists, who are enticed by attractions such as the Alamo, the River Walk, Sea World and Six Flags. With the airport on its route, the northern arc of Loop 410 sees a lot of traffic.

From Culebra Road to the Interstate 35 interchange, the roadway is undergoing a major expansion from six to 10 lanes. Other major interchanges at Bandera Road, Interstate 10 and San Pedro Avenue are being renovated and a new interchange is being constructed at U.S. 281 near the San Antonio International Airport, officially called the San Antonio Web.

Often described as a quagmire, the Web is the only freeway crossover in Texas without an interchange. Motorists must negotiate city streets, access roads and traffic signals to get from one freeway to the other. Cab drivers and many of the other 284,000 daily motorists who travel in the area grumble about traffic planning. But while they complain about state officials who scrapped plans to build an interchange there three decades ago, TxDOT defends itself by retelling the story of a heated battle to stop construction of the North Expressway, now called McAllister Freeway – the section of U.S. 281 from Loop 410 to downtown San Antonio.

The feud, which lasted from 1960 to 1964, pitted businessmen against environmentalists in a battle over allowing the road to cut through parklands. According to Lewis Fisher in his book Saving San Antonio, the fight lasted through two referendums and several lawsuits before making its way to the White House. Federal money was withdrawm from the project by the courts, but Congress later passed a law to let the city and state move forward.

However, during a court-ordered halt in construction from 1971 to 1974, according to Saving San Antonio, the City Council lifted a ban on development along the rights of way, resulting in the quick construction of numerous buildings. The cost of a cloverleaf interchange suddenly became exorbitant. Julia Brown, deputy engineer for TxDOT, told reporters there wasn’t much they could do. Recently, however, more than a dozen businesses have been removed to make way for a stack interchange, a taller, narrower interchange that is more efficient than a cloverleaf.

Moving Forward

By early 2010 or possibly sooner, that battle – and that quagmire – will be a memory. Eight ramps connecting Loop 410 and U.S. 281 near Airport Boulevard are part of the $155 million project that includes replacing outdated cloverleafs at Interstate 10 and San Pedro, widening frontage roads, adding sidewalks and curbs, upgrading the storm drainage system and updating the Traffic Management System.

TxDOT reports that the project was 91 percent complete as of spring 2009, with progress not only ahead of schedule, but also on budget. Mike Young, equipment manager for general contractor ZCC, estimates that they’re in the last third of the project.

He also speculates that a new piece of equipment helped them adhere to the tight schedule. Young credits the Rototilt RT 30 from Indexator Inc. in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, with improving efficiency on the project. “It would be very difficult to maintain this schedule without it.”

The Rototilt is a versatile excavator attachment that combines side tilt, rotation and a hydraulic quick coupler. It allows a bucket or other attachment to be rotated and tilted at the same time, making it simple to operate around or under obstacles. The unique combination of continuous rotation and side tilt lets them approach the job from any angle and in tight work areas.

That’s important on the Loop job, Young said, where crews are working in tight spaces around utilities, poles, roadway signage, infrastructure and “lots of other obstructions” such as existing businesses along the service roads. The Rototilt, mounted on a Cat 332D wheeled excavator, allows the operator to reach obstacles from all sides without repositioning many times. The advantage of being able to sit in one spot saves time and manpower.

“We can do with one machine what we used to do with two or three different types of machines,” Young states. “It angles, tilts and spins 360 degrees, which really helps with grading and utility relocation.”

Rototilt Revolutionizes Work

Produced by the Swedish company, Rototilt is now sold in North America by Indexator under the direction of U.S. Sales Manager Dennis Buquet. With a product line that includes a complete range of models for machines from 3- to 30-ton (2.7 to 27 t) capacity, Rototilt offers a compact rotator suitable for the most demanding materials handling tasks.

Manufactured from high-quality alloy steel, every rotator is hydraulically balanced for long service life. Compatible with any brand of equipment, it features rugged construction, low weight, low profile design, high torque and excellent operating characteristics.

Praising the maneuverability and low-maintenance aspects of the Rototilt, Young particularly appreciates the quick coupler, which allows the uptake of tools such as digging buckets, leveler, grabs, grapples and compactor plates. “We can change multiple digging buckets to hydraulic hammers. There are many tools, so we can be effective.” Alternately, the Multi-Attachment developed by Indexator eliminates the need for the quick-coupler system, resulting in a lower installation height, weight and costs, as well as improved digging power and geometry.

All movements are electronically controlled from the driver’s cab by means of function buttons mounted on the control handles, increasing efficiency and speed. That is exceptionally valuable, considering the Loop 410 project’s tight schedule. Due to recent state laws that allow bonds to get money faster, the schedule was condensed from five phases over 10 years to one large project with a shorter deadline.

But another reason for the urgency Young cites is lane closures. “Any time you close a lane, it’s a big deal. You want to get that back open as quickly as possible.” Officials anticipate 150 main lane closings and 200 frontage road closings over the life of the project. Although primarily a day job, the project includes intermittent periods of shift work, specifically during lane shutdowns, traffic changes and bridge demolition. Young applauds the Rototilt for assisting with efficient demo and clean-up.

Purchasing Power

ZCC purchased its Rototilt specifically for the Loop 410 job. Young said company employees saw it being used on a machine and decided to lease equipment outfitted with it. “It worked well and the guys liked it enough that after six months, they requisitioned a new excavator with the Rototilt.”

Young receives many equipment requests from operations management and field operations, deciding on purchases as a group. Particularly in this economic climate, he said the company is “judicious with money. We take a hard look at every potential investment. We do a lot of research because we invest in equipment and the company we buy it from.”

Convinced that it was a good buy, Young authorized the purchase of a new Cat 332D wheeled excavator outfitted with the Rototilt. Pleased with the return on investment as well as dealer support, he said ZCC doesn’t “just buy the cheapest equipment. We buy the best possible equipment from companies we have the strongest relationship with. We’re advocates of the equipment triangle: manufacturer, supplier and end user. It takes all three to maintain a profitable relationship.”

High Profile

A family-owned company that employs more than 11,500 people and averages an annual revenue more than $1.5 billion, ZCC is one of the largest direct-hire merit-shop contractors in the United States. Founded in 1924 as H.B. Zachry Company, Zachry Construction Corp. is now the parent of several companies in the construction industry and has completed more than 5,500 civil and industrial projects in its eight decades, logging more than 28.2 million work hours.

The company’s first contract was with the Texas Highway Department for a $40,000 bridge construction project in Laredo. Since then, ZCC has worked on power generation plants, chemical refineries, retrofit air quality control systems, highways, bridges, dams, U.S. embassies in China, Nicaragua and Cambodia and other specialty projects worldwide.

Familiar with managing big jobs, ZCC worked on the largest refinery expansion contract in the United States — a $1 billion Lyondell Citgo Refinery in Pasadena, Texas; the largest earthmoving project in the country — an Atkinson-Washington-Zachry joint venture $400 million contract to build a dam at the Eastside Reservoir in Southern California; and TxDOT’s largest single highway contract — the construction of the Dallas High Five Project.

The Loop 410 may not be a record-setting project, but it’s a big job. Young estimates that ZCC has 40 to 50 machines onsite at any one time, not counting pickup trucks, generators and attachments. But it’s one attachment that’s stealing the spotlight. Young reports that he’s tried to move the Rototilt to the High Five project in Dallas, but “the guys [on the San Antonio job] won’t let it go!” CEG

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