Not Your Typical Underground Contractor

Firms in the business of repairing and replacing culverts need to look no further than the next job to discover potentially complex and unique situations, especially when unpredictable water and vehicle traffic are involved. For crews at a fast-growing Canadian construction firm, the greater the challenge the better.

“I’ve got some sharp people who are always looking for new experiences that test their ingenuity and skill,” says Stephen Foster, vice president and project manager for Titanium Contracting Inc., Toronto, Ontario, CA. “They are not all that interested in easier work. In fact, doing different things is high on their priority list. When I submit a bid, I have a fairly good idea of what my guys are capable of doing. There are some jobs that take them right to the edge of what they know. So I let them try to figure out what to do. That allows them to learn on their own, which I believe is the best way to learn. I do, however, steer them away from doing something that is unsafe or will negatively impact the budget. One thing for sure, they are not bored.”

The company, which began in the summer of 2012, specializes in municipal services work, often taking on projects that are beyond the comfort zone of other contractors. When water is involved, Titanium Contracting is right at home.

“On many jobs you can control most variables,” Foster says. “Introduce water and everything changes. There’s more risk, but I believe if you plan and approach the job understanding the risks associated with water, you can do just fine.”

The problem with water, Foster points out, is that you can have a certain amount of flow the day you start the job, then it rains the next day and the project takes a different turn.

“The hardest part is figuring how to stage the job so that if your dams break or if the pumps cannot keep up, the job is always kept in a state that it can handle the water passing through and not cause damage downstream. We are always careful to make sure that if there is a flood event, we have taken every precaution to hold sediment to a minimum.”

Foster, who was trained as a hydro geologist, says Titanium’s success in and around water has been one of the building blocks helping his company grow and keeping his employees working 40 to 60 hours a week throughout the year. In addition to culvert projects, Titanium Contracting also does demolition and deconstruction, including asbestos abatement, landscaping, site remediation and storm water management.

Atypical project

Last year in Aurora, Ontario, a small city located north of Toronto, Titanium Contracting took on its most difficult culvert project to date. Stage one, a 30-meter-long CSP (corrugated steel pipe) culvert under Wellington Street, a major thoroughfare, was completed last summer. Stage two, encasing part of the stream, is on the 2014 schedule. The original culvert, which was installed more than 40 years ago, was deteriorating as evidenced by the steel plate becoming detached from the footings.

“When I first looked at the project, I could see the culvert was definitely in need of repair, but the extent of the damage was difficult to evaluate because the bottom of the culvert was under water,” Foster recalls. “The flowing water was at about 30 percent of the culvert’s capacity when I inspected the site. I had to rely mostly on drawings to figure out what was wrong and how to approach the job.”

At the start of the $250,000 project, which began late in the work season, Titanium Contracting installed temporary silt fencing and a bypass pumping system, built a cofferdam, collected the fish and moved them downstream. Once the 50 custom-made steel plates, manufactured by Canada Culvert, arrived, the seven-person crew moved quickly to tack on steel spreader bars and rebar. While the existing concrete footings could be left in place, a new slab was poured to reinforce the old one. Foster says, “It was just like rebuilding a culvert from the inside out, certainly not the typical way we approach this kind of work.”

They finished with slope restoration by installing native material and topsoil and placing, grading and compacting granular A, granular B and granite stone.

As with all its relining projects, traffic continued moving over the culvert jobsite. “Having the right equipment on the job is key to maintaining traffic flow,” Foster says.

“We usually bring a skid-steer loader and large excavator to these jobs,” he says. “One of our machines – a Doosan DX235LCR excavator with a near-zero reduced tail swing – is especially valuable when space is limited. In highly congested traffic sites, the excavator enables us to either sit in one lane or on the shoulder without significantly impacting traffic.”

All of Titanium’s excavators are equipped with hydraulic brake protection and drift control, important features when it comes to lifting steel culverts in place. The machines also do plenty of digging at these jobsites.

Short work season

The culvert business puts a premium on dependable equipment (all machines with the exception of one roll-off truck are 2012 or newer), because the work season is limited.

“Although it varies throughout Ontario, the spawning season for fish generally condenses our work window from the beginning of June to the end of September,” Foster says. “All our culvert work has to be completed within that time frame. This year we hope to do $3.5 million to $4 million worth of work in four months.”

The compact schedule also means that Titanium Contracting will regularly be hauling equipment from job to job; a process referred to as floating, which can be expensive because of weight restrictions and pricey permits.

“Our goal is to avoid incurring these costly expenses,” Foster says. “As we travel throughout Ontario, we sometimes have to get five to 10 different permits. Without the right size equipment a $3,300 move could turn into a $7,000 move – a real nightmare. Our other Doosan excavator – even with added accessories such as a mechanical thumb, quick coupler and auxiliary hydraulics – is the perfect size for floating. That machine, the DX420LC-3, has the power and precise controls that allow us to lift and place a 12-ton culvert, which is one of the most common jobs we do.”

In addition to the Aurora project, the company completed six other similar-type municipal jobs last year. Two included the installation of precast box culverts, one of which was at the outfall to a hydroelectric control dam. Another pair of jobs included the installation of bolt-a-plate corrugated steel pipe arches and another two consisted of large diameter corrugated steel pipe culverts.

Titanium’s biggest culvert project is taking place this summer in Massey, Ontario. The firm is sliding a new culvert inside an old culvert, which is 21-feet wide, 14-feet tall and 160-feet long. The new culvert will consist of 120 plates and 7,000 bolts. Total weight: 50 metric tons.

To create a better experience for the crew, which is expected to be on the job for three months, Foster has rented them a cottage on a lake. After the challenges of working around water during the day, they can take on the challenge of catching fish in the evening and on the weekends. No doubt they will be up to that challenge, too.

Titanium Contracting Inc., 416) 745 – 2662,
Doosan Equipment, (877) 613-7970,

Important Guidelines For Handling Water-Related Jobs

As an experienced manager of construction projects that take place in and around water, Stephen Foster of Titanium Contracting says the two most important factors for success are:

Treat your crew well – “This work is not for the faint of heart and can easily break grown men. If you have a good crew, do whatever it takes to keep them happy. They will reward you tenfold.”

Always keep an eye on the weather – “There will almost always be more rain than you expect and you better have a contingency plan for it or you will be flooded. In the past five years, we have had at least three ‘100-year’ flood events, and every year it seems to get a little worse.”

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