A Bucket Full of 911

by kfrego

The State of Arizona had a lot of highway and freeway construction going on in Phoenix during the mid 1980’s. Myself and Mike Pivetta went from Yuba City,CA to Phoenix to install a retaining wall for the widening of the west side of Interstate 17 between Thomas and Grand Ave. Schnabel Foundation had a subcontract under Tanner. The wall line followed the property line of the Ford dealership at Thomas south to the Grand Ave overpass at I 17. The excavation would allow widening of the depressed interstate. Tanner provided our survey and layout of the wall line. We drilled and installed 12 inch steel beams in 24 inch holes. Mike and I maintained layout for the steel beams, plumbed the beams as the drill lowered them to bottom of each hole, and backfilled the installed beams with sand slurry delivered in ten yard concrete trucks. Each night Tanner came in and hauled out the drill spoils from the days drilling.

We had about three quarters of our beams installed and backfilled. The south end of our wall went partially up the slope at the Grand Ave overpass. Tanner came in to excavate the slope so our drill could get access to the holes. Utilities had been checked and double checked by Tanner and Phoenix city agencies. They were clearly marked and staked for location. The locations matched our contract blueprints. A 988 Cat loader came in at mid day to cut the slope back. The loader stockpiled the sandy soil for removal during night shift. We were drilling less than 100 feet from the loader. The 988 is 35 feet long with a weight of a hundred and ten thousand pounds. The loader was in pretty hard digging and working to get a full bucket out of the slope. We heard the loader engine bog down and saw the machine lurch forward as whatever he hit broke loose. The loader backed out of the bank and in his bucket was a four foot square by ten foot long section of concrete electrical duct bank with a dozen four inch conduits running through it. There were hundreds of broken wires and cables dangling out of both ends of the conduits. Everybody’s jaws dropped wide open as we realized what happened. This wasn’t a minor utility problem. This was serious. One of our first actions was to assign a man to the stakes showing the utility locations. He was told not to let anyone touch one of those stakes. If the duct bank was not in the staked location the responsibility belonged to the owners of the utilities. If Tanner dug it out and the stakes identified the proper location it was on Tanner’s dollar. We had helicopters, executives, utility representatives, law enforcement, and newscasters everywhere in thirty minutes. The 988 took out all of Maricopa (Phoenix) County 911 service and nearly 300,000 phones.

Mike and I were lucky…………the 988 saved us from finding the duct bank with our drill.

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