Mears Group Moves Natural Gas Into The Future   

MOB Traffic supports the unseen heroes of infrastructure maintenance.  

When it comes to construction in Southern Nevada, most people think of new construction — the rapidly expanding development of new communities edging ever closer to national parks, wildlife preserves, and other federal land. However, new construction is only part of the story in Nevada. Existing infrastructure makes up a considerable portion of the work done on any given day. 

For example, just one pipeline division of Mears Group, Inc., replaced approximately 45 miles of natural gas pipe last year. This same division could easily upgrade even more main and service lines this year. 

“We have 26 crews working on various natural gas infrastructure upgrades for Southwest Gas every day,” says Crystal Voight, senior engineer for Mears Pipeline Division. “They are responsible for over 15 projects at any given time.”

Most projects are centered around specific neighborhoods in Las Vegas, with the average neighborhood requiring 5,000 feet of main line replacement and 4,000 feet of service replacement. Some larger neighborhoods, however, have needed as much as 9,000 feet of main and 12,000 feet of service line. 

Mears is responsible for over 15 projects art any given time, each one replacing 5,000 feet of main line and 4,000 feet of service line on average.

The practice is relatively common across the country. Replacing natural gas lines is part of a greater effort to upgrade an aging underground utility infrastructure, especially lines installed decades ago. New installations take advantage of industry improvements made in pipe materials, construction methods, and maintenance practices.  

“Most projects average seven or eight months,” Voight said. “A few larger neighborhoods may take longer and then there are isolated projects dedicated exclusively to small jobs where a section of pipe or the service line to one house might not have been upgraded in the 1990s for whatever reason. Four isolated crews work on these smaller projects, where it is even more important to minimize any inconveniences.”

Voight says the most significant challenge her crews face is the area’s unpredictable ground conditions. Some areas of Southern Nevada have what’s sometimes referred to as potato dirt, a soft soil mixed with coarse sand. Other regions might have three feet or more of shelf rock or caliche, a hardened natural cement of calcium carbonate that binds to gravel, sand, and clay.  

Safety has been part of the company culture at Mears for some time.

This unique area challenge, however, is also one of Mears Group’s biggest strengths. As an industry-leading energy infrastructure solutions provider with over 20 locations across the United States, they have readily deployable personnel and equipment to solve any infrastructure need. More than that, Mears is a wholly owned subsidiary of Quanta Services, which operates more than 200 companies, all dedicated to tackling the most complex infrastructure challenges in the world. 

“What’s great about being part of Mears and Quanta is knowing that someone within our family of companies has an answer for whatever happens to come up,” says Voight. “At the same time, Mears Group maintains some of the same family-owned engineering firm culture that it was founded on in 1970. It has something to do with the way the company operates — every contract is designed around client needs. Once the requirements are established, we plug our knowledge base into the work.”

In some ways, Voight says it isn’t much different from how their traffic management partner, Masters of Barricades (MOB Traffic), operates. MOB Traffic adheres to client needs and jurisdictional requirements on any job it manages, and its experience sets it apart. 

“What I’ve always liked about MOB Traffic is they don’t rely exclusively on Google maps,” says Voight. “I’ve had people come out to a site to identify potential hazards that don’t appear on any maps. It’s this attention to detail that makes all the difference.”

Similarly, Mears Group almost always begins every project with a camera inspection rather than relying on old maps and presumptions. Inspections might identify metallic shorts on cased pipes, flow characteristics, soil resistivity, stress corrosion cracking mitigation, and any number of other evaluations of the pipeline to be replaced. 

Mears assists clients in the development of external corrosion
direct assessment standards and protocols that are
appropriate for their pipeline systems.

“Safety has been part of the company culture for some time,” says Voight. “Mears readily admits that people are fallible, so we are always asking ourselves if we have the capacity or plan to absorb a mistake without causing harm. This means we focus on prevention and what to do if prevention isn’t enough.”

Voight believes MOB Traffic shares similar values, partly because she worked in dispatch at MOB Traffic before accepting an operations position at Mears years ago. In fact, it was her attention to detail on construction jobs that Mears noticed. 

“Originally, I started as a flagger for MOB Traffic,” said Voight. “The experience helps me appreciate what it means to work outside in 120 degrees, and also the importance of things like safety. It’s also a testament to the construction industry in that someone like me can work their way up from being a flagger to a senior engineer. I love what I do every day.”

Voight adds that she finds it ironic how often construction is overlooked as a viable career path because most people think about the industry in what they see — new residential communities and commercial buildings. As long as people occupy structures that require infrastructure, there will be a future demand for those who build and maintain them, just like those professionals who work at Mears.

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