Rapid manhole risers provide flush fit every time

By Angus W. Stocking

The construction goal for any asphalt paved surface is a smooth rideable surface that lasts. A smooth surface reduces damage to the pavement, necessitating fewer repairs. It improves fuel efficiency and reduces wear and tear on vehicles, making the choice for asphalt not only a great economical decision, but is said to significantly reduce the noise generated by car and truck tires rolling over its surface. It provides a quieter ride experience for the motorist.

Asphalt was first used to pave streets in the 1870s. At first, naturally occurring “bituminous rock” was used, such as sourced at the Ritchie Mines in Ritchie County, West Virginia from 1852 to 1873. Today, typical asphalt pavements consist of two or three asphalt layers which are installed successively.

The last thing anyone wants is that hard-wearing, beautiful wear-course surface interrupted by an ill-seated man-hole cover causing a sudden dip or shock-absorbing rumble to the motorist.

Enter American Highway Products (AHP) based in Bolivar, Ohio. The company has been manufacturing and offering steel manhole risers and catch basin risers since 1978. These adjusting rings can move the manhole up or down in ¼” increments to ensure an accurate, secure fit resulting in a smooth driving surface connection with the asphalt-paved road.

“Our riser expands into the round manhole casting like ‘a pressed-in bearing,’ obtaining full circumferential engagement in the casting, which is very reliable and does not come loose in heavy traffic,” stated Scott Fier, AHP president. “Our number one product by far is our patented Pivoted Turnbuckle Manhole Riser used to adjust utility lids to grading when you are paving.”

The Pivoted Turnbuckle Manhole Riser accounts for approximately 80% of American Highway Products total sales. Number two in their sales are the Catch Basin Risers with the remaining, smaller percentage sales in the company’s recycled-rubber Manhole Safety Ramps, which provides safe, smooth traffic flow over raised manholes or manhole risers during road construction projects, and the sales of Valve Box Risers.

The company, American Highway Products, was born by chance in a Cleveland traffic jam in 1977. The creative problem-solver Raymond Fier, P.E. (Scott Fier’s dad and company founder), was stuck on his way to a meeting when he observed a worker installing a 4-segment cast-iron manhole riser. He watched the man struggling when expanding each bolt. Going around to each bolt turning, then on to the next bolt until he accidentally dropped his wrench into the sewer (Egad!). He thought, “Man, there must be a better mechanical solution for that!”

Fortunately for every roadway contractor, utility crew, and state agency that now has to raise manholes or valve covers or catch basins to new grade after paving Raymond Fier had pursued the creative mechanical challenge observed with the poor worker and his dropped wrench.

Back then, at age 48, Raymond Fier went to work designing and creating four patented products for his new company, American Highway Products, over the next few years. He also designed the machines to make the product as well. The company’s ring-rolling machine can roll a ¾-inch-thick bar extremely accurately in 45- to 70-seconds time, depending on bar size. It is said to be the key machine in making AHP products precise.

To get a tangible sense on how AHP products work and benefit roadwork, take a look at the city of Grand Rapids, Mich. as a case study.

As the second-largest, and fastest growing city in Michigan, with a population topping 200,000, Grand Rapids is considered a progressive jewel of the Midwest. It is said to value creative innovation that extends all the way thru city management and even to the details of roadway maintenance.

“We repave a lot of roadway annually, which means we need to raise more 500 manholes most years,” explained James Hurt, managing director in the Public Services Group. “It’s an important detail to get right, because if covers end up below grade they collect water and ice and become potholes, and if they’re just a little too high, they can catch vehicle tires and snowplow blades and cause serious problems. They need to be level with the paved street.”

A manhole in the road allows the maintenance crew necessary access. They are vital. Manholes are the only way to quickly access the utility system and diagnose a problem. They must be kept to grade on road maintenance projects and always accessible by maintenance crews.

The majority of underground utilities — sewer, water, gas, electric, stormwater, fiber optic communication systems, etc — have manholes. They are important to all those different providers to gain access for inspections, maintenance and upgrades.

Since 2014, the Grand Rapids Street Maintenance Department has used the American Highway Products Pivoted Turnbuckle Manhole Riser to securely raise manhole covers to new grade after paving operations.

“They’re sturdy, lightweight, precisely-sized rims of galvanized U.S. steel and are made adjustable through their ‘Patented Pivoted Turnbuckle’ design that will expand or contract the riser as needed to match original rim diameters,” Hurt stated.

In practice, installation is designed to be as simple and fast as placing the adjustable riser in the original rim and tightening it, using a screwdriver or similar tool as a lever, thus effectively applying thousands of pounds of force along the entire riser-to-rim circumference, which is designed to seat the riser tightly and permanently.

“We use a two-man crew and a truck, and put in the risers just before new asphalt lifts,” said Public Works supervisor Jason Carter. “The pavement seals up tightly against the AHP riser, giving us a seamless new roadway and a very durable manhole—in fact, when correctly installed, we have never had a riser fail.”

Before adopting the AHP adjustable riser in 2014, the public works department used to raise manholes the conventional way, excavating around the chimney as needed and installing new concrete rings. According to Hurt, the process was slow, a little unsafe, came with sustainability costs, and was expensive—“We estimated $500 or more per raised manhole!”

Grand Rapids now installs more than 500 American Highway Products risers annually, saving at least tens of thousands of dollars, improving sustainability, and exposing crews to less risk—all with a better quality solution. “We are 110% behind American Highway Products and their products,” says Hurt. “We expect to keep working with them for a long time.”

Grand Rapids is emblematic of probably all cities… they want their asphalt paved streets smooth with their manholes raised level with the finished pavement!

Angus W. Stocking is a former land surveyor who has been writing about infrastructure since 2002. American Highway Products can be reached at 1-888-272-2397 or by email at sales@ahp1.com