Right now, on a bright but frigid winter day, one of those crews is hard at work in Zionsville, Ind., a suburban enclave north of Indianapolis. They’re about halfway through a two-week pipeline replacement project.
Near the tree-lined corner of South Ninth and Plum streets, the deep rumbling of a backhoe’s engine cuts the silence. The operator steadies the heavy machine and rams its arm into the ground, ripping a sizable chunk of asphalt from the earth. Later in the day, a similar pit will be dug 400 feet downhill. Finally, a directional drill will bore a tunnel between the two holes, and a brand-new line of yellow plastic piping will be inserted to provide the safe flow of natural gas for years to come.
“If we do our job right, the folks who live here won’t see us for another 50 years. And that’s a good thing,” says J.R. Boller, a regional shop coordinator at Miller, referring to the corrosion-free properties of the polyethylene pipes, the American Gas Association’s preferred material for new lines.
Parked a few feet away from the action is the DuraStar that makes the whole operation possible. Painted in Miller’s signature yellow and equipped with a 10-foot dump body, the compact vehicle resembles an overgrown Tonka truck. But this is no toy. If the powerful yet nimble workhorse were to break down, the ripple effects would be felt immediately.
“Uptime is extremely important to us,” says Greg Raver, Miller’s vice president of fleet operations. “If a truck is out of commission, that impacts an entire crew. They’re not able to meet their deadlines. We need to get the pipeline into the ground as quickly as possible, with as little impact to the neighborhood as possible.”