Underground Contractors Inc. uses versatile Ditch Witch rigs to meet the unique challenges of working in a football stadium


Navigating challenging job sites is a common task for Underground Contractors Inc. (UCI), an industry leader in telecommunication installations across the United States. When the company won the contract to work at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions football team, they knew their operators would be up against a unique set of obstacles.

“When the specifics of the job came out, I knew nothing like this had been done before,” says Del Mecum Jr., vice president, UCI. “The job site was one of a kind, and we had to complete it between Lions’ home games. That gave us about two weeks.”

During its 40-year history, UCI has built a reputation for providing cost-efficient solutions under tight deadlines. This job would end up requiring all the expertise they earned over the years.

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Getting ready for kickoff
These days, many sports fans don’t just watch the game when they come to the stadium, they share their experience by offering real-time commentary on social media.

At Ford Field, a Wi-Fi system installed in 2012 gave many spectators the ability to digitally share their Detroit Lions experiences. Verizon operated the system and, at the time, reserved it for only those fans who were also Verizon customers.

In 2016, the Detroit Lions and Verizon agreed to collaborate on upgrading the Wi-Fi system to accommodate a higher density of users as well as enhancements made to smartphones and tablets over the past four years.

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The plans called for Wi-Fi antennas to be mounted on handrail locations in the stands surrounding Ford Field. First, holes would be drilled down from three access points along each handrail. Then cable would be deployed underground beneath the stands, since there was no access to the seating area from below.

Boring so close to the field was complicated. Operators couldn’t use drilling mud because it might dirty the field. By the time the Lions played their next home game, the field had to be in perfect working order.

In total, the project required up to 140-foot bore shots along many of the staircases. Operators stopped three times where a hole had been drilled from above. But before shooting out under the staircase, HDD crews first bored a 6- to 7-inch hole into the bulkhead. Once through, they immediately steered the drill bit straight up to run along the staircase.

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When shooting out from the bulkhead, another obstacle was encountered: the conditions beneath the ground were unknown. Crews primarily expected clay, but the conditions varied and occasionally gravel was encountered as boring took place. This slowed their work, compressing the project timeframe even more.

Speed and maneuverability
Originally expecting to drill through sand and clay, UCI sent two HDD and two support crews. When encountering clay, they can get up to five bores done each day. But when running into gravel, a single bore can take as long as three days.

The unpredictable underground terrain required UCI to add more crews to the project. They were running Ditch Witch HDD rigs, including the JT2020 and JT9.

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“The reliability of Ditch Witch drills has made them the cornerstone of our fleet since the 1980s,” says Mecum. “On this project, we used the powerful JT2020 for the tough rock conditions, and relied on the compact JT9 to get in the bulkhead and make tight, quick turns. Easy-to-use controls and overall machine versatility was a must-have on such a complicated job site.”

The JT9 was helpful for this project. Equipped with a high-performance, air-cooled Tier 4 diesel engine, the 66 hp drill offered enough pullback force for operators to work effectively and efficiently. And as the shortest drill in its class, it can reach and set up in tight spaces, easily maneuver around the job site, and minimize surface disturbance.

With drills that could handle such a tough underground project, UCI completed the Wi-Fi deployment a day ahead of schedule. True to the company’s reputation, they exceeded expectations.

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“There has been nothing but praise for the work we accomplished at Ford Field, thanks to the Ditch Witch drills,” Mecum says. “And beyond the leading technology, Ditch Witch dealers offer great support. Our local Ditch Witch dealer has become a trusted partner for our company. They work with you to get parts or resolve problems, whatever is needed. That level of support makes all the difference.”

For more information on the Ditch Witch directional drills, please visit www.ditchwitch.com/directional-drills.


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