The patents on some aspects of some trenchless techniques have expired, opening up these markets to more contractors and giving infrastructure managers more options for less-disruptive utility improvements. With greater opportunity, however, comes greater potential exposure.
“As an industry, we've done a pretty good job educating people about alternatives,” says Gerry Muenchmeyer, PE, technical director for the National Association of Sewer Service Companies and principal of Muenchmeyer Associates. “What we haven't done is educate people who are responsible for determining if a quality product has been installed.”
If you've successfully specified a particular technique in the past, the task is relatively straightforward. If state rules allow it, you may even be able to offer the bid to a select group of contractors, in effect exercising a pre-screening process. Or you can learn from managers who've learned the hard way.
Overland Park, Kan., Right-of-Way Coordinator Murv Morehead says that bids for the city's utility installations sometimes are written on a performance basis in which the bid specifies the expected result of the project but leaves implementation in the contractor's hands.
“We don't force contractors to use a specific method, but we do reserve the right to encourage them to look at alternatives to open-cut, especially if digging up a street is involved,” Morehead says. “We can withhold the permit until we're convinced that the contractor has done due diligence and has proved to us why there's no other method available than open-cut.”
Some departments write bids specifying only that the project be done “by a means other than open-cut” without actually selecting the technique, according to Ray Sterling, PE, director of the Trenchless Technology Center at Louisiana Tech University.
“If you approach bidding in this way, you must be in a position to approve the method that you allow to be used, and you must have a consistent design basis for the various methods approved,” he says. The department also must have established quality control procedures and a method for asses sing the experience level of contractors.
Quality control was Overland Park's impetus for developing the Horizontal Directional Drilling Guidelines Handbook that outlines expectations for items like jobsite safety, calibration of tracking equipment, and containment of drilling fluid. The International Pipe Bursting Association also offers detailed specification guidelines for classifying project difficulty, assessing contractor experience, and controlling various aspects of the process.
The National Association of Sewer Service Companies' Muenchmeyer recommends writing specifications “at a high level for quality control and inspection in the field.” If they're silent regarding inspection and testing, your authority may be significantly impaired.
Large projects may require more than one trenchless method as well as sections of open-cut. While Roselle, Ill., uses horizontal directional drilling (HDD), coupled with other methods, for certain aspects of water-system maintenance and installation of streetlight cable, Public Works Director Rob Burns points out that open cutting is still sometimes the most viable option. The point is to avoid the assumption that a 14-foot backhoe solves every sewer or water problem.
Slip-lining with fold-and-form pipe? Burst, ram, or drill? If you don't have the time or resources to seriously investigate the various methods, consider asking a trusted civil engineering firm to provide an overview. If a particular method seems feasible, suppliers of the appropriate technology will provide more detailed information.
Another resource is the EPA's Capacity, Management, Operations, and Maintenance (CMOM) program, which provides a framework for assessing pipe condition. Video inspection records are invaluable in selecting trenchless alternatives. After assessing system condition and long-term maintenance needs, some departments realize that doing the work in-house ensures access to technology not readily available in their service area, allows for a more flexible operation, and gives them more control over scheduling.
Whatever the motivation, say managers who've made the investment, the decision to purchase should always be based on a hard look at economics and equipment use.
Columbia, S.C., for example, bought several horizontal directional drills to handle smaller jobs and emergencies while continuing to contract for larger projects. The city of Mesquite, Texas, bought a static, 30-ton pipe-bursting system four years ago after calculating the return on investment.
“We've installed more than 10,000 feet of sewer pipe. Our intent is to purchase a larger, 100-ton system to increase our capability, and to start taking on some water-system work,” says Wastewater Superintendent Andy Chennault. “The system paid for itself on the first three jobs.”
— Moore is a technical writer for Two Rivers Marketing, Des Moines, Iowa.