When Allegheny Contracting entered the public works construction field in 2001, the Ridgway, Pa.-based company took the wide angle approach of many upstarts — tackling the unique and the unusual. Within four short years, President and Owner Brent Buehler hit the company’s profitability sweet spot, 50 in. underground.
Allegheny Contracting’s core business is natural gas utility pipeline installation with a team of 70 and an agile fleet of compact equipment and short-swing excavators. Allegheny Contracting has seven dedicated pipeline crews that average seven years of experience.
“We quickly learned that we needed to target a niche market and hone our skills to be efficient,” says Buehler. “That is how we settled into natural gas pipeline work and have specialized in this market for the past 10 years. Our jobs range from very small isolated leak repairs to major pipeline replacement projects.”
In Pennsylvania, according to the Public Utilities Commission, inspectors monitor more than 47,000 miles of underground utility pipeline. A significant amount is aging cast iron or bare steel pipes, which are prone to corrosion. The trend is toward replacement vs. expansion of end-user pipeline.
While age alone is not a reason to replace first generation underground lines, technological advances are increasing delivery reliability and flow rates. New pipelines are also made of state-of-the-art plastics that are better suited for underground use and can flex with changing temperatures and bend along the contours of the ground.
Allegheny Contracting’s services span asphalt and concrete cutting, trench excavation, main and service line installation and remediation of sidewalks and roads. This turnkey business within a niche application makes Allegheny Contracting very competitive since they offer companies a single solution. Add to that Allegheny’s stellar safety record and certification as a DOT-qualified pipeline contractor. They are a member of the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA), National Utility Contractors Association of Pennsylvania (NUCA of PA) and National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). Allegheny Contracting received the NUCA of PA Small Business Safety Award in 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2011.
Buehler attributes the company’s strong safety culture and its dedicated workforce as the backbone of its success. “Our safety record has also helped in recruiting new team members. We have been able to attract a number of highly skilled people over the years based on our safe working conditions,” he said.
Currently Allegheny Contracting is contracted for a multi-year plan to replace several miles of underground gas pipelines in several counties within Pennsylvania.
In March 2015, Allegheny Contracting started a $1.7 million project to update 5,000 ft of 4- and 6-in. 1940s-era bare steel natural gas pipeline near the main campus of Penn State University. The lines are parallel to a section of Atherton Street, a roadway traveled by more than 38,000 vehicles a day during peak traffic periods, according to Pennsylvania DOT statistics.
Allegheny Contracting is placing on average 250 ft of line per day. The new 6-in. diameter medium density plastic pipeline is being installed in a manner that minimizes service disruptions to homes and businesses. Sections are fused above ground to length using McElroy 28 fusion machines, lowered into place on top of 4 in. of limestone sand and backfilled with sand bedding followed by crushed stone. Allegheny Contracting is utilizing trench shoring equipment manufactured by Kundel to protect employees from trench collapse.
Allegheny Contracting runs a lean equipment lineup due to vehicle congestion and narrow working lanes. On this particular job are a number of Volvo machines including ECR58 and ECR88 compact excavators, a BL70 backhoe loader, EW180D wheeled excavator, skid steer loader with a rock saw cutting attachment and tandem axle dump trucks.
Wheeled excavators are a rare sight in North America, but gaining acceptance due to their roadability and the added stability their outriggers provide on uneven terrain. They also have a slim profile to fit within a single lane of traffic or median strip. And wheeled excavators can travel up to 22 mph — all attractive factors when working in congested environments.
Simultaneously, a few miles away on University Drive near a Penn State University student housing area, a second crew is replacing 2,000 ft of 2-in. gas pipeline directly under the sidewalk. Two ECR58 compact excavators are performing excavation, rock breaking and lowering-in work, fitted with hydraulic breakers and compaction plates in addition to standard buckets.
“The ECR58 is perfectly suited for our type of work,” says Buehler. “It is light enough to limit secondary damage to property, but powerful enough to do the job of a larger machine. They are very productive and versatile, and with the range of attachments, they can be equipped for almost any job we encounter.”
The short-swing ECR58 measures just 6 ft, 7 in. wide and carries 5,980 lbf of tear-out force. Allegheny Contracting routinely equips these machines with hydraulic breakers and vibratory compaction plates in addition to a selection of buckets.
Allegheny Contracting opts to purchase equipment and lease other machines to fill in the gaps based on the demands of each job, Buehler says. The wheeled excavator is a perfect example. His local Volvo Construction Equipment dealer salesman, Pat Maurer with Rudd Equipment, recommended this particular model which Buehler took on lease. Says Maurer, “This was a unique job that required the pipeline be run down the center of an active four-lane road, and all the equipment had to be removed from the road in the evenings. So the EW180D is a great fit because of its reach, digging depth and mobility.”
Allegheny Contracting operates more than 25 Volvo machines in its fleet, including several ECR58 and ECR88 compact excavators; BL60 and BL70 backhoe loaders, an MCT135C skid steer loader and an ECR305C short-swing excavator.
Initially Buehler was not a brand-loyal buyer. “As a business owner, I shop for value over price,” he says. “I have found that the cheapest machine is generally not the best fit for the long-term. We experimented with machines of lesser quality in our early years and the cost of downtime and constant failures far exceeded the savings on the purchase price.
“We were introduced to Volvo by Patrick at Rudd Equipment, and at first we were skeptical,” Buehler continues. “Over time, the machines have proven their worth, and the support we receive from Rudd Equipment is second to none. One of the main things with the Volvo excavators is their durability and longevity. These machines just keep running and doing their job day in and day out with very little downtime.”
Amy Crouse is a Product Marketing and Communication Specialist for Volvo Construction Equipment.