Working a night shift is a relatively foreign concept for many. But not for construction crews; nighttime is often prime time—or the only time—for highway work. When it comes to major roadways, night work is critical to minimize the interruption to traffic.
Being part of the construction industry for more than 20 years, Joe McLoughlin, owner of J McLoughlin Engineering Inc., Rancho Cucamonga, Cal. has worked more than his fair share of night shifts on large highway-paving jobs. “We work solely in the state of California,” says McLoughlin. “I’d say upwards of 99% of our projects are for Caltrans.”
McLoughlin’s company has grown and succeeded since its founding in 1991. He attributes this success to hardworking employees and superior equipment. Without either, McLoughlin recognizes his chances of success would be slim.
To ensure his success, McLoughlin sets high standards for employee recruitment—only hiring employees that demonstrate dedication, drive, and knowledge of the industry. Though not a living breathing part of his team, he applies similarly stringent standards to his equipment purchase decisions.
When it comes to equipment, the chance of error or downtime is greatly reduced when you’ve found a line that consistently meets the desired standards. That’s why observers will see an ever-expanding line of yellow in McLoughlin’s fleet. He’s found success with the E-Z Drill line of concrete drills for more than 10 years.
With California being the country’s most populous state, it’s no surprise that its roadways take a beating. Because of this, a great deal of repaving and repair work is needed to keep the roads safe and traffic flowing. Last fall, Interstate 210 from Pasadena to Glendora needed a major overhaul, and it’s no wonder why: this section of pavement has an annual average daily traffic count of 301,000 vehicles. A large segment of the concrete was old and damaged—and unsafe for motorists.
The $45 million contract was awarded to J McLoughlin in December 2010. The project estimate called for the replacement of a 22-mile section on Interstate 210. McLoughlin was confident he and his crew could handle the project. After all, the company averages between 10 and 20 projects per year, with the overall size and cost being right on par with the Interstate 210 project. The 50-person J McLoughlin crew began work in March 2011 and was tasked with completion in 140 working days.
Working through the night
A tight timeline no doubt, but there was one more kicker: The work could only be done at night. The nighttime working hours for a construction crew vary by project, but in this case, it meant working from roughly 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. The size and scope meant this would be a demanding job already, but the strict timeline set by Caltrans meant the crew had to work as efficiently as possible.
“We consider ourselves to be nocturnal because almost all of our work is done at night,” McLoughlin says. “So that really wasn’t a major issue for us. What was really going to make this job a challenge was the strict time limit. You figure there’s 20 working days in a month, which gave us seven total months. That comes out to around $6 million worth of work a month. That’s extremely fast!”
Working in sections
Like most repaving jobs, the work was done mostly in sections or “patches.” The work started by cutting out a designated section using a concrete saw. A breaker was used to break the concrete within the patch area and the broken concrete was excavated. Finally, the crew brought in its concrete drills from E-Z Drill to drill holes where the dowel bars would be placed. After the bars were set and epoxied in, each patch was completed with a fresh pour of concrete.
For this project, J McLoughlin looked to its fleet of E-Z Drill slab rider drills. The crew used a total of eight drills in varying gang sizes. The primary drill used was a two-gang slab rider unit. J McLoughlin ran four of these at a time, while also using two each of three- and four-gang slab riders to accommodate various patch sizes and hole requirements.
“In that 22-mile stretch, there were about 10,000 patches, which equates to nearly 200,000 total holes,” says McLoughlin. “Add in the fact that the patches could be different sizes and require a varying number of holes, and it got a bit more complex.”
The number and variety of drills allowed workers to use multiple units at any time to maximize their output and keep pace with the deadline, especially important considering the looming threat of penalties that J McLoughlin would incur if it didn’t meet the completion date. “We’re looking at a $41,000 fine if we don’t finish on time,” says McLoughlin. “And that’s not just a one-time fee. That’s $41,000 each day we go past the completion date.”
Even one broken or faulty piece of equipment could be a major setback in terms of completing the project on time. To set itself up for a penalty-free job, McLoughlin ordered more drills than were required for the project. That way, if a drill broke down there was an extra ready to go.
“We knew even a temporary shutdown to our operation could be detrimental,” says McLoughlin. Even though experience told him there was no need to worry about the E-Z Drill units lasting for the long haul, he decided it was worth the peace of mind to have the backup.
“It’s like having insurance,” he continues. “You hope you never have to use it, but you still have it just in case.” According to McLoughlin, ”We haven’t yet had to use the extra drills because not one of the E-Z drills has broken down.”
In addition to drilling speed, accuracy was equally crucial. Holes had to be drilled precisely acording to Caltrans’s specification. No problem for McLoughlin’s crew. “That’s another thing I’ve found with E-Z Drill,” he says. “We can always count on the accuracy. It’s pin-point every time.”
Accounting for rain days and holidays, the project contract expired on Jan. 20, 2012. Armed with proper training, reliable drills, and a hardworking crew, J McLoughlin had no trouble finishing the project on time. With this project complete, McLoughlin and company continues on, doing what it does best—working faster than the speed of night to ensure motorists on California’s highway and freeway systems stay safe and get where they need to go.
Lindsay Babb is the public relations director for Ironclad Marketing. She can be reached at 701-373-0062 or [email protected].