Mountainous Infrastructure Project Takes Shape

Even on the flattest terrain, infrastructure development projects present challenges. But put crews to work on an installation high in the Rocky Mountains, and the degree of difficulty increases with every 1,000 feet above sea level they climb. On these alpine jobsites, rock, weather and environmentally-protected boundaries rule the day, turning plans — sometimes literally — upside down.

Working in high elevations is nothing new for Albuquerque, NM-based AUI Inc., the general contractor selected by the Angel Fire (NM) Public Improvement District (PID) to lead a $24 million infrastructure development project in the Rocky Mountain community. So when the contractor stared down the tough challenges presented by the Angel Fire project, they were prepared.

The village of Angel Fire, NM, is the largest incorporated mountain community in the state and counts roughly 1,000 permanent residents. According to the village’s website, Angel Fire is the fastest-growing community in northeastern New Mexico. It sits at an elevation of 8,415 feet and is less than 30 square miles wide. Santa Fe is roughly 70 miles to the southwest, and Albuquerque is situated 130 miles in the same direction.

Design-build at 8000 feet
Home to nearly 850 lots, the Angel Fire PID project will one day be filled with condos and chalets, boutiques and shops catering to the area’s four-season tourists who come to ski, shop, bike, golf and relax with their families. Called by the village’s mayor “the largest construction project this valley has ever seen,” the plan was to bring needed infrastructure to property owners who have been waiting — some for as long as three decades — for the development.

The years-long project has been managed by the PID, an entity made up of officials elected by Angel Fire property owners.

The project was classified design-build, an area of expertise for AUI. “When a contractor and an engineer can come together to provide complete services, it alleviates many of the issues that arise on a traditional bid-build project,” said Marshall Vickers, AUI project manager in charge of the Angel Fire job.

AUI began work on the project — the scope of which included road work, water/sewer system and underground utilities installation — in August 2009 with a plan to complete all work within two construction seasons. Extreme winters require that AUI demobilize its equipment and secure work areas when snowfall levels make construction no longer possible. The area — which is home to the renowned Angel Fire Resort — receives an average of 18 feet of snow each winter.

Trenchers vs. volcanic rock
Road projects consisted of grading and preparation of the road bed, shaping of drainage features and installation of base course and culverts. The water system required the installation of six-inch, C-900 PVC lines, including valves, fire hydrants, stubouts, pumps and water tanks. Sanitary sewer lines also called for the use of PVC material installation (eight-inch, SDR 35) and placing of precast HDPE manholes, stubouts and lift stations. Electrical lines were run through three-inch conduit and telephone lines through two- and four-inch PVC. All new development was tied into the village’s existing infrastructure.

Throughout the trenching process, AUI equipment operators learned to adapt to various soil conditions, which ranged from volcanic rock to clay. The crew, which was composed of approximately 80 employees, ran 11 excavators, two trenchers and seven loaders, as well as various other pieces of equipment to support the large machines. Equipping the excavators with breakers helped operators power through the stubborn rock.

Trenchers were called in to excavate the miles of water, sewer and utility lines — each requiring trenches of varying depths. Water lines required seven-foot trenches; SAS called for trenches anywhere from 8.5 to 16 feet deep; electrical and telephone lines needed three and four-foot deep trenches respectively.

AUI chose two Vermeer trenchers — models T1055 Commander 3 and T955 Commander 3 — for the project, citing cost and the depth and width of the cuts necessary as the two main reasons for the equipment selection.

The track trenchers are among the largest available in the market. They are designed specifically to excavate among tough soil conditions, which made them ideal machines for the Angel Fire terrain. According to the manufacturer, the trenchers’ ability to break through the most difficult of surfaces is due to splined headshaft motors that offer low speed and high torque.

“AUI has been working with Vermeer on track trencher technology for years and figured the Angel Fire project could benefit from the use of trenchers,” said Vickers.

Vickers reports that AUI was able to install water lines in Angel Fire at anywhere from 300 to 800 feet per day, per crew and sewer lines at 120 to 220 feet per day, per crew. The high efficiency of the trenchers, which boast high-volume spoil removal with an extra-wide conveyor opening, aided in the crew’s speed.

Working fast, smart in thin air
Throughout the project, speed has been a top priority for AUI. That’s because the job suffered significant delays, first at the outset, as the PID faced litigation that kept it from pulling the trigger on the work; second, from an unanticipated delay in the delivery of a US 404 permit, which regulates the discharge of excavated material in U.S. wetlands.

The wetland areas of the jobsite required delivery of the permit before work inside the vicinity could begin. Although it took significantly longer than anticipated to arrive, the US 404 was eventually granted, and AUI crews were able to make up for lost time.

“We have every reason to be proud of the way AUI has tackled the task of recovering from such a late start,” said Gerald White, PID project director.

The unpredictable weather in Angel Fire made planning of the infrastructure development a challenge, as did a high water table in certain areas of the 19-mile-wide jobsite. AUI crews learned to adapt, however, making adjustments to the plans as needed.

“When it comes to making adjustments, communication is key,” said Vickers. “We had an experienced group of employees up there who understood the value of talking to one another, not only to keep the project moving, but to learn from the adjustments for the next time the same challenge presented itself.”

Vermeer Corp., (888) 837-6337,

Related Articles