Arched bridge presents unique staging for pipe fusion job

Sailboat Bridge, which arches impressively over Grand Lake in northeastern Oklahoma, was a feat of infrastructure when it was built in 1938 and rebuilt in 2001.

Installing new water and sewer pipelines on the underside of its half-mile-long deck was quite a feat as well.

The dual pipelines are funded by the Cherokee Nation in its efforts to bring water and sewer services from the city of Grove to their new casino that just opened in December 2016. But it’s not just the casino that this new infrastructure will benefit. Many believe it could definitely spark more development and potentially bring the city of Grove new water and sewer customers, Public Works Director Jack Bower said. If you’re playing to win, you might say the casino changes the way the game is played.

“They have brought infrastructure to the north side of Grove and it’s already paying dividends,” said RedStone Construction Services Senior Superintendent Jason Dunnam. “Now other businesses are looking at coming to the north side of the bridge.”

RedStone contracted with Contech Inc. to install 12” and 6” high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipelines. Its three-mile path would run through steel hangars under the bridge and along the right-of-way on U.S. 59.

Contech has a strong background in welding ductile iron and PVC pipe, but the rural water district and the city of Grove insisted that the pipelines be HDPE which is joined through butt fusion. In this process, pipe ends are melted at a specified temperature and held together with force resulting in one continuous flow of homogeneous pipe with joints that are strong as or stronger than the pipe itself. Pipe fused properly does not leak and HDPE’s non-corrosive qualities gives communities a reliable piping system that lasts up to 100 years. HDPE pipe is all the rural water district uses.

This would be Contech’s first HDPE job in more than a decade and definitely the most challenging. But it was a job of a lifetime and a tremendous opportunity so the company took a deeper plunge into the HDPE world and turned to Poly Pro to provide certified training for five new fusion operators. It was a decision they don’t regret. Once their crew put their new fusion skills to work in the field, they found that the fusion part of a job can be one of the easier and more straight-forward tasks.

“We didn’t have any problem at all with fusing pipe,” said Contech Superintendent Don Gabbert.

Choosing a fusion machine that could meet the unique needs of the job was critical in meeting their tight deadline. Poly Pro recommended a McElroy TracStar® 412, a self-propelled, self-contained, all-terrain, tracked vehicle equipped with a fusion carriage and onboard generator to power the hydraulics and heater.

Contech experimented with another machine brand but Gabbert said it could only produce four to six fusions a day and required a three-man crew to operate. Only one operator was needed on the McElroy machine which produced 24 fusions a day. Plus it was mobile with all the necessary components on board so they could drive it by remote control wherever they needed to fuse pipe —from the rocky embankment of the bridge to a muddy ditch.

For pipeliners, it’s all about footage. They must be able to lay a certain amount of pipe a day to meet deadlines and stay in business. Gabbert said the McElroy machine played a key role in meeting their goals. Altogether there was a total of 21,000 feet of pipe with a fusion made every 40 feet. With added bends and fittings, it amounted to 550 fusions.

Contech was able to exceed their footage goals on many days and finish the job on time.

“McElroy definitely did a faster and better job for us,” Gabbert said. “For the kind of project it was and the length of the bridge itself, it went really smoothly.”

The pipe under the bridge would be exposed so it required special precautions. Selected was Asahi-America’s 6” double-wall contained Fluid-Lok pipe for leak protection and 12” double-wall insulated CoolSafe pipe for freezing protection. WL Plastics’ 12” DR11 and 6” DR11 was chosen for the buried portion of the pipeline.

One of the biggest challenges was how they were going to gain access to the underside of the bridge’s deck where they would be installing steel hangers and fusing pipe. Contech Owner Bryan Adair could picture it in his head in the very first meeting — a scaffolding structure that would straddle the lake below between the northbound and southbound lanes of the bridge. It would have the ability to travel from one end of the bridge to the other.

The resulting certified structure was engineered by Premier Steel, and throughout the project it safely held a four- to six-man crew. In fact, there’s a possibility it may stay in place because it offers such good access to the bridge for inspection and maintenance.

The tight spaces under the bridge created no stumbling blocks for the McElroy fusion machine which has a removable carriage. They were able to leave the vehicle on top of the bridge and place the carriage on the scaffolding below. This versatility allowed the entire pipeline to be consistent with leak-free, butt-fused joints that were not interrupted with mechanical fittings.

A 3,500-foot, half-inch cable and double-pulley system powered by a loader and skid steer was used to pull the pipe through the hangars under the bridge. They pulled the 6” pipe in a week and the 12” in only a day and a half.

Poly Pro supplied other McElroy equipment used on the job including a Pit Bull 26, an 18” carriage and several PolyHorses®, a pipe handling system that holds a day’s worth of pipe and feeds directly into the fusion machine.

In addition to digging dual trenches with 10 feet of separation and a massive amount of rock excavation — 7,500 feet long and three-feet deep — the project in its entirely required about every scope of work a utility crew could experience. There were lift stations, pump stations, meter vaults, valve vaults, a 30,000 gallon water tank, altitude valves — they had it all.

Timing was everything on this project as the casino and pipe project were underway at the same time. Without water and sewer service being completed on time, the casino wouldn’t have been able to open before Christmas as planned.

Contech’s 26-man crew worked every day, often times from 6:30 a.m. to midnight adjacent to a constant flow of speeding traffic in an effort to complete the project in less than five months. It worked. They were able to provide water and sewer to the casino so that it could open just a week before Christmas.

Dunnam said that throughout the entire project there was an extreme willingness among the suppliers, contractors, engineers and the tribe to work together in making the project a success.

“Nobody had really experienced what we performed out there before,” he said. “From the design phase to the very end, it has been an incredible collaboration.”



General Contractor: RedStone Construction Services

Sub-contractor: Contech

Fusion Machines: McElroy

Supplier: Ferguson Waterworks

Supplier & Training: PolyPro

Pipe: WL Plastics, Asahi-America

Supplier: T.H. Rogers Lumber Company

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