Emergencies happen. That’s why special services teams are assembled in districts throughout Texas – each armed with equipment that can travel quickly to locations like the Houston area as it struggled to recover following Hurricane Harvey in September 2017.

Matthew Heinze, Austin District Special Crews Supervisor for the Texas Department of Transportation, said his district was just one of several that responded to the coastal area with workers and equipment.

Over a three-month period, his district rotated cleanup crews using three of its five self-propelled, highway speed excavators, plus a fourth rented from Waukesha-Pearce Industries.

“We sent a convoy of Gradall machines to Rockport first, and then to Harris County and Houston,” said Heinze. “Each of the machines was equipped with a grapple attachment and could be driven at speeds up to 60 mph, so they could get to disaster sites quickly without the need for a truck and trailer to haul them.”

An estimated 19 trillion gallons of water had fallen in Houston, sending eight feet of water into the downtown area and flooding thousands of homes. “The cleanup effort was massive,” said Heinze.

“Mostly, we were picking up household material contents from curb strips,” said Heinze. “Some of the homes had a couple inches of water inside, and others were completely under water. They had to tear out parts of the structures and most of the contents were ruined. Day after day, seven days a week, our crews picked up material and loaded it into dump trucks.”

He said skid steer loaders were used for cleanup, but Gradall excavators with full-tilting booms – in addition to their highly mobile undercarriages -- were able to position the grapple attachments so that they could efficiently pick up the furniture and debris in all shapes and sizes, and then turn it so that it fit into the truck beds. Machines with rubber tires were preferred because they would not further damage streets.

“Self-propelled excavators are a huge advantage because they have a truck footprint,” said Heinze. “In tight residential areas, it just wouldn’t work to try to bring in a loader and a trailer.”

Heinze, who has nine years’ experience operating highway-speed excavators, said the district has four dedicated operators who are busy every day handling road repair, vegetation control, tree trimming, drainage, canal maintenance and other work.

“Among telescoping boom machines, we only have Gradalls in Texas anymore,” he said. The department currently owns over 100 Gradall excavators, and another 14 were rented for Hurricane Harvey cleanup.