Trenchless Construction Services Goes Low Profile

Trenchless Construction Services L.L.C. of Arlington, WA, is a prime example of a true trenchless contractor. Over the last decade, the company has grown from a small HDD crew into a multi-disciplined trenchless company.

In addition to a wide range of HDD capabilities, the company has incorporated several trenchless disciplines into its list of services including, but not limited to, pneumatic and static pipebursting.

The managing member of Trenchless Construction Services, John Gustafson, knows the trenchless market and understands how his company fits in that market. Recently, the contractor completed a challenging emergency project for Birch Bay Water and Sewer District in northwestern Washington state that demonstrated the company’s capabilities and commitment to quality work. The project included replacing over 6,000 feet of small diameter PVC water main, part of which ran through the Lummi Nation Native American Reservation and included special construction considerations.

According to Gustafson, the constraints of the project really dictated what process they could use. He said, “The problem the district faced was an old 2.5 inch PVC water line that had experienced numerous breaks, service interruptions and extensive repair costs. It wasn’t that big of a job, but the challenge was that we really needed to minimize the excavation foot prints. The permit basically said that any replacement method had to be performed from inside the existing pipe. So, when you go into a 2.5 inch pipe, it takes special equipment to do that.”

For the project, Gustafson worked with pipebursting specialist Jim Moore from trenchless equipment manufacturer TT Technologies, Aurora, IL, and chose the Grundoburst 400G static pipebursting system with low profile bursting rods.


John Gustafson started Trenchless Construction Services in 1999 with a small three man crew (including himself) and a directional drill. Even back in the 1990s, Gustafson saw the potential of trenchless applications. He said, “I noticed that there was a growing need for trenchless applications and a market for the trenchless specialty sub contractor. Working in the material supply end of the construction industry for more than 35 years and knowing a lot of the local contractors and engineers, really helped in my new role as a trenchless subcontractor.

“I started out with the idea that we would do directional drilling, trenchless pipe replacement, which is traditionally pipebursting, and stay within those specialty fields. I kept growing it and growing it and now we’re involved in pilot tube microtunneling as well.”

The company services a large portion of the Pacific Northwest including Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho. Gustafson has even sent crews to some extreme remote locations in Alaska. Taking on remote locales for construction projects, especially in Alaska, requires extensive preparation. Gustafson said, “Oh, you have to do a lot of planning. And you have to take everything with you – everything plus. Working in remote Alaskan locations is definitely risky business.”

Team building

Over the years, Trenchless Construction Services has grown from three employees to over 20 employees today. Gustafson says that kind of growth requires a focus on people and sound business practices. He said, “Number one, what I think you need is a strong dependable team of people. You really want to take care of your people. You want to be selective bringing them on board, make them strong team members, and take care of them financially, educationally and socially. We’re still a small family oriented company. We have a Christmas party with our spouses and a summer picnic get-away. We just work closely together. Number two, is you have to make sure you do quality work that meets your customers’ expectations. Finally, you need to price your services based on the value of the service you’re providing in a competitive market place.”

Safety is a concern on every job site and Gustafson takes it seriously. His belief in providing education for his employees ties directly into improving safety on the job site. Gustafson said, “We have an excellent safety record; in fact our safety experience factor is 0.60. Site specific safety meetings and tailgate meetings are very important. You can have a grandiose safety program, but you have to do the basics, look at the site, and really concentrate on what could happen at that site and draw everyone’s attention to it. We also stress the buddy system. Watch out for your buddy.”

While safety represents part of Gustafson’s educational focus for his employees, he also makes it a point to bring employees to industry events and trade shows including the Underground Technology Conference (UCT).

For the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District project, the Trenchless Construction Services team would need to draw on years of experience and dedication to quality work.

Birch Bay

The Birch Bay Water and Sewer District provides water and wastewater service to approximately 7,500 people. The district is located in the city of Blaine, WA, and has been operating since 1968. The district features a three member elected board and a general manager who is responsible for day to day operations.

The area’s water system is comprised of three reservoirs and approximately 70 miles of water mains. The district recently became a member of the Whatcom Water Alliance that includes member cities in the area as well as several other water and sewer districts. The group’s aims include water conservation efforts and public information activities.

Realizing the issues with the water main along Drayton Harbor Road and an impending asphalt overlay project, the district needed to act quickly in order to facilitate the repair to the main before completion of the asphalt overlay project. According to Gustafson, Trenchless Construction Services was contracted on an emergency basis to pipeburst and replace over 6,300 feet of 2.5 inch water main.

The Birch Bay waterline replacement project consisted of replacing 6,300 feet of existing 2.5 inch PVC force water main with new 4 inch DR 11 HDPE. In order to accommodate a pipebursting application, Trenchless Construction Services needed to utilize a pipebursting unit with a low profile bursting rod to fit within the small diameter waterline. Moore said, “The nice thing about the compact Grundoburst 400 is that it has the smaller profile bursting rod capability, but doesn’t sacrifice power. Plus, those smaller rods still incorporate the Quicklock system, the preferred method for connecting static bursting rods without the inconvenience of screwed together rod systems.”

The project was further complicated because the original pipe was installed without bedding and on a radius in many areas. Additionally numerous bends complicated the insertion of the Quicklock rods. Moore explained that “because the existing pipe had so many turns and bends, we could not just pick places for launch and exit pits. We had to insert the rods into the existing pipe as far as the pressure and resistance would allow. This was the determining factor in the location of the pipe insertion pits.”


One of the primary reasons pipebursting was specified for this project was because much of the project ran through the Lummi Indian Reservation, along the western edge of Whatcom County. This required special procedures for the excavation of launch and exit pits, in order to minimize the disturbance of any Lummi Nation artifacts encountered during excavation.

Moore explained that “a professional archeologist was contracted and required to be on site in order to monitor excavations in case crews unearthed Lummi Nation artifacts and to prevent the disruption of potential Lummi Nation archeological sites.”

Actual bursting runs ranged from 200 feet to 430 feet. The 4 inch HDPE was installed off 500 foot coils. Crews from Birch Bay handled the final connections, chlorination and pressure testing of the new main before it went into service. The entire project took approximately one month to complete and everyone involved was pleased with the results.

Gustafson said, “We really worked together with the crews from Birch Bay [Water & Sewer District] as a team to get this thing done. We had to have it done in a short time period. It was a very cooperative effort. Everyone was definitely on the same page.”


Contractor: Trenchless Construction Services, (360) 474-0123
Pipebursting equipment: TT Technologies, (800) 533-2078,

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