Municipal 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.
“Wheeled excavators in the U.S. represent a paradigm shift,” said John Edwards, government sales manager for Cowin Equipment, which serves customers in Florida, Alabama and Georgia. “As we engage with our municipal customers that are somewhat more progressive, they see the potential of a wheeled excavator and are willing to explore its use and capitalize on its benefits.”
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-inch cutter on it. What use 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,” says 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 their 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 their 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.
Part of the increased efficiency reported by these counties comes from the wheeled excavator’s ability to road from jobsite to jobsite 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 miles 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 35-40 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!”
Each of these county officials live in the community they serve. Some have been there their whole lives. Again and again, while discussing the benefits of wheeled excavators, the reasoning came back to their neighbors.
“We are dealing with limited proceeds, we are the elected purchasing agent for the county to make the right decisions for our families,” says Greg Chapman, a county commissioner in Anderson County, Texas.
Vanderberg, the official in Okaloosa County, Florida, said in his experience, a wheeled excavator can do any of the projects the county would have done with a crawler in the past, with the added bonus of being easier on roadways.
“A wheeled excavator won’t tear up the sidewalk or curb if I’m to going a project — from a project perspective that’s saving me money and saving the taxpayer money,” he said.
Their focus on community gives these leaders a common bond. They tend to share information more often than private companies competing with one another.
“Our municipal customers actually work with each other to find solutions that each other can benefit from,” said Edwards.
Often one county purchases a piece of equipment because they had a chance to see it in action at a neighboring municipality and if these counties are any indication, wheeled excavators could soon be the norm instead of a growing trend.
“Come check one out,” said Collins, of Santa Rosa County, Florida. “The Volvo has increased every aspect of our efficiency and productivity. We have tried other machines — should we continue down this path — I think we found what we want.”