The Tools to Do Utility Work In-House

Vacuum excavators help the city of Maryville expand and maintain its underground infrastructure.

The Tools to Do Utility Work In-House

The City of Maryville (Tennessee) recently addressed its need to pothole utilities and excavate around existing infrastructure by adding a Vermeer McLaughlin series VXT8 Mega Vac vacuum excavator to its fleet.

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Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, the city of Maryville, a suburb of Knoxville, Tennessee, is going through a growth spurt. With a population of nearly 30,000 people and climbing, the town has experienced a big spike in utility development within the last two to three years.

In preparation for expanding its underground infrastructure, as well as maintaining existing lines, city crews are using niche equipment, like vacuum excavators to locate and soft dig in sensitive areas.

“I’ve been here almost 23 years now, and I’ve never seen as much new construction, both residential and commercial, going on as we’re experiencing right now,” says Scott Brown, fleet superintendent for the city of Maryville.

Brown is responsible for outfitting city crews with the equipment they need to tackle the day-to-day needs of the utilities, public works, grounds, maintenance, police, fire and engineering departments. He says that with all of the new infrastructure comes the need to install more utilities, including fiber, gas and sewer lines, as well as the expectation that the work will be done right the first time.

“Our residents expect nothing less than perfect from our city crews, from garbage pickup and brush collection to the fire and police departments,” Brown says. “And, they expect the installation of new utilities to be just as perfect. It’s how we work.”

The right equipment

To keep up with the influx of utility work — and people’s expectations — the City of Maryville recently invested in a new Vermeer McLaughlin series VXT8 Mega Vac vacuum excavator, adding to the municipality’s vacuum excavator fleet, which also includes a Vermeer Vac-Tron series LP573SDT vac trailer and Vermeer McLaughlin series VX50-500 vac trailer.

“When we bought our first trailer-mounted vac unit, we bought it kind of on a whim,” Brown says. “At the time, a lot of people asked me where we would use it. We put it to work right away, and the next thing I knew, I had departments fighting over it because they saw all of its possible uses, including cutting in and setting meter basin and taps. It just kind of blew up from there, so we invested in a second trailer — and now we bought the truck.”

Before adding the new VXT8 Mega Vac to the fleet, city crews kept their trailer vacs busy, says Brent Robbins with Maryville’s water and sewer department. The trailers are well suited for sewer line work, with built-in jetters and hydraulic valve-turning arms that allow crews to back out valve boxes, then operate and exercise the valves.

But, the two trailer units weren’t enough to keep up with demand. With the type of work the crews were taking on, Brown knew they needed a bigger, more powerful machine to complement the work the trailer units were doing. He called on Tim Hedrick with Vermeer Heartland for help in choosing the right model to add to their fleet. Knowing the applications that city crews were handling, Hedrick recommended the VXT8 Mega Vac.

“The biggest advantage of the VXT8 Mega Vac is that it has a whole lot more capacity in the tank, and it hauls more water than trailer vacs,” Robbins says. ”Another advantage of our new vacuum excavator is how quiet it is to operate. All I have to do is hit the vac brakes and throttle it down, and I can stand right there beside the boom and talk with my crew. It’s also a piece of cake to run.”

Taking on more projects

The new VXT8 Mega Vac has allowed the municipality’s crews to take on new work. “We use the truck for potholing utilities and excavating around existing infrastructure,” Robbins says. “There’s getting to be so much infrastructure in the ground now that we run into a lot of situations — like we’re not able to dig or don’t want to take a chance of damaging anything with a backhoe — so we use the new vac truck to hydroexcavate material out.”

For example, Robbins says that happens when his crews are called to find a meter box in a flower bed, and they have to dig it up. “We’ll use that vac truck to suck out the dirt around that meter box, and we don’t tear up nearly as much stuff as we would if we went in there with a backhoe.”

On one occasion, the crew vacuumed out 6 to 7 feet of ditch with existing utilities in it. “It was just a lot faster to vac it out than it would have been trying to figure out the backhoe,” Robbins says. Crews have also used the truck to prepare for sewer rehabilitation projects and to vacuum dirt and gravel out of storm catch basins.

The vacuum units have allowed city of Maryville crews to do more work in-house, rather than outsource projects to subcontractors. “I’d say we do 95% of the work with our own crews and equipment,” Robbins says. “When we get a big sewer job, we’ll still sub it out because we just don’t have the people to do it plus keep up with all our maintenance work. But on smaller projects, anywhere between 400 and 1,000 feet of line, we’ll lay it ourselves.”

Even when the city of Maryville crews call on subcontractors to help out, the vac units come in handy. “We’ve got a lot of good contractors in the area that we work with, but we don’t want to leave it all up to them on whether or not they think something should be potholed,” Robbins says. “Instead, we want to be the ones pointing the utilities out. Saying, ‘See, there it is, right there.’

“If we have lines that are critical, like a main feeder line that runs between tanks or something, most of the time, we’ll pothole them to make sure everyone — both our crews and the contracting crews — know where the utilities are, even after they have been located,” Robbins adds. “Any critical line, we pothole those ourselves. This means we’ve done our due diligence in helping these folks avoid hitting something when they’re installing new lines.”

In-house expansion

The city of Maryville is dedicated to providing quality services for its citizens, and it believes the best way to provide them is by doing as much work in-house as possible.

“We very seldom sub stuff out anymore because we have talented, trained teams working in all of our city departments. Our people take a great amount of pride in what they do, how they do it and when they do it,” Brown says. “It’s a winning combination that keeps all the city’s public utilities operating a peak efficiency and helps maintain the beauty of the community.” 

About the Author

Cori Sellars is the product marketing lead for Vermeer MV Solutions.


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