City, County Governments Find Versatility in Wheeled Excavators

City and county governments face a unique set of challenges. They are local. They are funded mostly by taxpayers. Their work can be tedious, but it essential to the livelihood and safety of their residents.

Roadwork, clearing ditches and cutting away pervasive vegetation along roadways are examples of some of the critical, less glamorous work local officials are responsible to finish.

Many public fleets are starting to turn to wheeled excavators for these types of jobs, finding many uses for them beyond their traditional role of digging. They're praising wheeled machines for their mobility, versatility, performance and ability to minimize stress on tight budgets.

“We're always looking for the most bang for our buck,” said Thomas Collins, fleet and operations manager, Santa Rosa County in Florida. “When we considered the cost of ownership, we figured the Volvo EW180E wheeled excavator would get a lot more value for our dollar — better serving our taxpayers.”

“Our downtime compared to previous machines is probably 50 percent less, and the ability to just keep it on the road has increased our efficiency tenfold,” said Collins. “It pays off even with our operators. They have less fatigue, doing a better job for a longer period-of-time.”

Wheeled excavator use in Europe has outpaced their use in the United States for decades. But like past trends, U.S. consumers are seeing the European results and choosing to adopt these tools for work in America.

Different Uses

Those benefits include versatility and the ability to utilize a wheeled excavator on multiple types of jobs. Officials from counties in Texas, Alabama and Florida shared the different ways they utilized a wheeled excavator to serve taxpayers.

“The main jobs we use the wheeled excavator for is placing culverts, clearing roads and getting trees out of the way,” said Jerry Conner, foreman precinct 2, Rusk County, Texas. “For right-of-way clearing, it does a lot better than a backhoe for pushing and cutting. It can break limbs and move them to the side of the road.

“We recently pulled up to a parking lot with it and used it for loading riprap,” he added. “It's a whole lot easier than a wheel loader.”

Jeff Rumbo, an operator in Rusk County, pointed out they also use it to demolish buildings.

“We use it in almost every aspect of what we do,” said Rumbo.

The warm, wet weather along Florida's Panhandle creates the perfect climate for vegetation to grow. As a result, tall grasses, weeds and trees quickly overtake ditches along roadways. This creates all kinds of safety hazards by forcing pedestrians to walk in the street, prevents proper irrigation and blocks drivers' vision at rights of way.

“We enjoy a lot of rain here in Santa Rosa County, Florida,” said Collins. “We have to get those drainage ditches clear, and we can't have the limbs hitting school buses as they're going by or garbage trucks tearing limbs off and dumping them in the roadway.”

“There's a lot of satisfaction when you cut all day and turn around and look back at all we've done,” said James Davis, an operator Santa Rosa county. “The versatility, two-piece boom, the comfort of that machine is unreal compared to everything we've had before.”

In nearby Covington County, Alabama, five crew members used to go out with a mower and chainsaws to clear rights of way and ditches.

“They now use an EW180E wheeled excavator with a ProMac 52-in. cutter on it. What used to take five guys four or five weeks to do — two men with this machine will have done in two days,” said Edwards, of Cowin Equipment.

Roads covered with vegetation are so pervasive in Covington County, officials now have a two-man crew dedicated to clearing rights of way full time.

Some residents are so grateful they bring the crew small thank-you gifts.

“We've had red velvet cake brought to us. We've had brownies brought to us,” said Don Cantaline, Covington County wheeled excavator foreman. “The mail ladies just love us.”

The same rain making invasive plants flourish can do real damage to the roads. Covington County's southern neighbor, Okaloosa County, Florida, uses its wheeled excavator to clear ditches and create irrigation paths.

“We're controlling our storm water. If it gets out of control, we tend to start losing assets,” said Robert Vandenberg, Okaloosa County commissioner. “Wheel excavators are more versatile than machines on tracks.”

Okaloosa County focuses its wheeled excavator on removing sediment and clearing ditches year-round.

“If we don't, they fall behind,” said Vandenberg.

Their current wheeled excavator focuses on the northern part of Okaloosa County, which is made up of mostly dirt roads. They received a second wheeled excavator in June, which will primarily work in the southern part of the county on paved surfaces.

Fast Moving

Part of the increased efficiency reported by these counties comes from the wheeled excavator's ability to road from job site to job site without loading it up on a trailer. Wheeled excavators can travel both on and off road. Their speeds can go above 20 mph on a dirt or paved surface.

“We can get it from point A to point B,” said Rob. “We drive as much as 20 mi. from job to job. We don't have to schedule a truck to move the equipment. It also has less impact in the area we're working at.”

According to operators and county officials, tracks can sometimes do unintentional damage to the road and surrounding environment.

“Our precinct is 35 miles wide, so we can travel anywhere within 35 to 40 minutes without a truck,” said Jeff Rumbo, operator in Rusk County, Texas. “There's nothing we've found it can't handle.”

Rumbo said he had a different experience when they rented tracked excavators in the past.

“They are great for what they are meant for, but they can't run down the road, even with rubber tracks,” he said. “It would still take us six hours to cross the precinct.”

You can also view previous issues of Superintendent's Profile.