Sacking Sand

A combination truck greatly simplifies interstate highway culvert cleaning for work crews from the Colorado DOT

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Culverts clogged with sand along I-70 used to be a big problem for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). Today, work crews clear them easily with a bright orange HV-56 Series combination truck, made by GapVax Inc.

With a 14-cubic-yard debris tank, 1,200-gallon water tank and 5,300 cfm of air flow, the truck helps CDOT deal with tons of sand that gets spread on highways during winter, then washes off and fills culverts before seeping into creeks, ponds and other waters, says Adam Baer, heavy equipment operator based in Aurora, a suburb of Denver.

Short work

“It’s a workhorse,” Baer says. “We can do a job in a couple of hours that used to take a day or two for the worst ones. That’s a big-time productivity increase.” Shortly after CDOT bought the truck in 2006, Baer spent three months clearing out culverts on a five-mile stretch of I-70. He estimates he removed an average of 66 tons of sand a day.

“All the culverts were plugged solid under six lanes of interstate highway,” he recalls. “If we did it by hand, like we used to do, we’d still be up there, and not even close to being done.”

Clogged culverts pose a major problem. When water can’t pass through, it backs up and either flows across or alongside the highway. From there it usually flows into the closest drop box, often washing away road shoulders along the way.

The culverts typically are 24 to 36 inches in diameter and 80 to 200 feet long. Before the truck was purchased, crews used shovels to clean out the sand, which loaders then lifted into dump trucks.

Easy unloading

Now, Baer uses the truck’s 2,000-psi waterjetter and its 1,200 feet of 1-inch hose. The high-pressure water knocks the sand loose, and the truck’s 8-inch vacuum hose picks it up. At the dumpsite, the truck’s tilt bed and vibrator system ease unloading.

“The truck also has a big handheld spotlight that we use to inspect culverts after they’re clean,” Baer says. “We don’t have to get inside the culvert. We just look through the drop boxes. Then we can tell whether a culvert is rotting out or still holding up.”

In isolated instances, crews still manually clear culverts in places the truck can’t reach. But the truck handles everything else. In fact, during the last three years, all the region’s culverts have been cleared of long-standing sand accumulations. And that’s a relief for environmentalists and CDOT employees alike.


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