Road shouldering machine gets an upgrade using OPERA funding

Road Widener

Shoulder drop-offs have been a major maintenance and safety concern for the Redwood County Highway Department. The department purchased a Road Widener® to speed up gravel placement on shoulders, but the machine was damaged within two weeks of use and needed design adjustments to prevent the glitch from happening again. Thanks to a grant from the Local Operational Research Assistance (OPERA) Program, the county was able to modify the machine and resume shouldering operations with little delay. An OPERA video and fact sheet about the project are available.

Staff researched options before making the purchase and found that the Road Widener could help crews disperse more gravel in less time. The machine can be attached to a motor grader or skid loader and treat shoulders 2 to 6 feet wide. It can be operated hydraulically with remote control to improve worker safety. And it’s easy to maneuver and transport to the job site, says Anthony Sellner, county engineer of Redwood County.

Early on, however, the county’s machine was damaged when a gravel supply truck tailgate pin caught on the frame above the unit’s gravel discharge area and bent the beam, crushing the discharge chute and collapsing the frame into the discharge belt. The damage was significant and rendered the unit inoperable.

closeup of road widener pin deflector
A deflector shifts truck tailgate pins away from the frame of the machine, preventing damage and downtime.

The $7,000 OPERA grant allowed staff to evaluate what had gone wrong and improve the design. Following a thorough study, the maintenance team contracted with a local welding shop to repair the attachment. “We stiffened up the whole side of that machine, made it a lot stronger,” says Jamie Larsen, county maintenance superintendent and project lead.

The repairs ensured that the unit could be used again without the worry of similar damage. After a trial run with no problems, crews put the attachment back to work for the remainder of the 2022 season and have had no trouble since.

The Local OPERA Program encourages maintenance employees from all cities and counties to get involved in operational, hands-on research. It is sponsored by the Minnesota Local Road Research Board.

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