Under the river and over Mt. Hood
In 2017, Robinson Brothers Construction (RBC) – an independent utility contractor based in Vancouver, Washington – secured a contract with a major telecommunications company to increase connectivity from Umatilla to Portland, Oregon. The company specializes in underground construction applications, helping launch fiber-optic networks for some of the largest communications companies throughout the western United States.
The 210-mile project includes installation of fiber-optic cables to connect large data centers along the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest to Portland. The city is a major hub in the telecommunication industry.
“With the amount of cell phones, cloud storage and changing technology, the fiber-optic industry is strong right now,” says Merle Sorenson, RBC chief executive officer. “It has really sparked our business.”
The two-year project began in April 2017 with RBC setting up several jobsites to conduct work simultaneously. “We’re spread out over 100 miles,” Sorenson says. The stretch from Umatilla to Portland runs along the Columbia River. The project route follows an equally winding path alongside the county right of way and across Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land.
The installation of the four-duct conduit system requires RBC to traverse terrain that is also quite varied – going under rivers, through farmland and over the north face of Mt. Hood, Oregon’s highest peak.
One conduit will house fiber-optic cable for high-speed connectivity from Umatilla to Portland, while the other three will remain vacant for future growth in the area. “We’re going through wheat country and many little towns,” Sorenson says. “Naturally, Mt. Hood is very rocky with dense forests and narrow county roads.”
To manage the distance and diversity of the project, RBC is running a large fleet of equipment that includes crawler excavators, rock saws, wheel loaders, compactors, directional drills, cable plows and air compressors.
Proven track record
RBC added two larger Doosan® DX300LC-5 crawler excavators to its fleet specifically for the project. Sorenson, who was raised in a logging community, had noticed logging crews using the Doosan brand of equipment. “Loggers put everything to task – the terrain they work on and the weight they pull,” he says. “If the loggers like it and it will hold up for them, it’s certainly going to hold up in our industry.”
Sorenson says the crawler excavators – purchased from Feenaughty Machinery in Portland – are absolutely necessary to keep the project on schedule. “There’s a lot of trenching and rock breaking,” he says.
Each DX300LC-5 is equipped with an 8,500-ft-lb hydraulic breaker for large boulders and busting up solid rock. The excavator and breaker combination are the only option for breaking solid rock because of the slope of the terrain. “You have to have level ground to use a rock saw so we’re using more breakers on the Mt. Hood portion of the job,” Sorenson says. “The Doosan excavators are doing a phenomenal job breaking through the rock. We’re glad we stepped up to the 300 class machines because it’s greatly increased productivity.”
When not breaking solid rock, RBC replaces the hydraulic breaker with large-capacity trenching buckets and calls upon the speed of the DX300LC-5s for excavating the rocky remnants and digging through vast stretches of land with unpredictable ground conditions. “They’re fast. They’re reliable. They lift everything we ask them to,” Sorenson says. “That’s kind of what it’s all about when it comes to these types of projects.”
Three Doosan DX140LC-3 excavators have been dispatched with several crews for trenching and breaking rocky ground to lay the conduit. Sorenson says RBC typically trenches to a depth of about 48 inches, 6 inches beyond the standard 42 inches. The extra depth ensures compliance and allows smaller rocks to remain in the trench. “We plow in the broken rock slot to place conduit,” he says.
A vault is installed every 2,500 feet and serves as an access and termination point for the fiber-optic cable that will be blown into the conduit. In some instances, the crew can’t plow in the conduit at the vault and has to splice conduit together. The DX140LC-3 excavators and a Doosan DX225LC-3 crawler excavator are used for digging those handholes. They’re also used for tie-ins and trenching areas with buried utilities.
Sorenson says ripping through various ground conditions, breaking rock and hauling away excess material can make quite a mess, especially near roadways. Doosan DX140LC-3 excavators are also used for backfilling and reshaping ditches and general cleanup. “We use wide buckets so we can reshape ditches and restore the right of way,” he says. “You don’t want anybody to know you’ve been there.”
Sorenson is seeing a lot more Doosan machines in the Pacific Northwest. It gives him confidence in the company’s decision to buy Doosan equipment. RBC owns six Doosan crawler excavators and a Doosan wheel loader that is occasionally used to move large boulders and unload pallets of conduit from trucks at the jobsites.
RBC was introduced to Doosan equipment by long-time industry veteran Byron Rose, who had worked with RBC on equipment sales in the past. “He knows everyone at our company,” Sorenson says. When Rose joined Feenaughty Machinery, he knew the Doosan equipment would hold up to RBC’s strong standards.
“Feenaughty Machinery has always been good about helping us find a way to make equipment work for our challenging situations,” Sorenson says. “We wanted large-size, modern excavators with a long carriage to increase productivity on this project, and the two DX300LC-5s have exceeded any expectations we had for getting through hard rock areas.”
RBC also relies on Feenaughty Machinery to keep productivity high out in the field, whether that means downtown Portland or 15 miles up Mt. Hood on a mountain access road. “We rely heavily on their service department, and they always respond, even getting parts flown in to remote jobsites if we need them.”
With more than 100 miles of the project underway or completed, Sorenson says snowfall on Mt. Hood halted further work on the mountain portion of the job until late spring 2018 when the ground thaws. In the meantime, RBC continues construction from the western side of the mountain, eventually completing the full 210-mile stretch and bringing high-speed connectivity to a growing industry with room for future expansion.