In the race to replace America's aging infrastructure, every second counts. Below our feet, thousands of miles of aging pipeline-some dating as far back as the early 1900s-carry natural gas and water to and from homes and businesses. If one of these channels were to rupture, the best-case scenario is a major inconvenience. At worst, a gas leak could trigger a deadly disaster.
That's where contractors like Indianapolis-based Miller Pipeline come in. Utility companies rely on Miller to upgrade the country's complex network of service lines as quickly and safely as possible.
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.
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.
The trucks, 55 of which have been in operation since last year, are configured to play multiple roles: Not only do they tow the massive backhoes that are essential to pipeline replacement and repair; they also operate as dump trucks, carrying asphalt and debris away from the job site to nearby landfills.