Arlington Public Works employees use The Big Sidewalk Sucker to lift a concrete panel from the sidewalk. The device saves the city some money and time to level ground below the concrete. (Arlington Public Works)

Arlington Public Works employees use The Big Sidewalk Sucker to lift a concrete panel from the sidewalk. The device saves the city some money and time to level ground below the concrete. (Arlington Public Works)

This thing sucks and helps repair sidewalks in Arlington

Public works crews can remove heavy concrete panels from sidewalks, so the ground underneath can be restored.

A $7,670 device is saving Arlington thousands of dollars on sidewalk repairs.

The Big Sidewalk Sucker — yes, that’s actually its name — can lift up to 2,500 lbs. using a vacuum seal. Most of the city’s concrete sidewalk panels are 5-feet-by-5-feet, 4 inches deep and don’t weigh that much, Arlington maintenance and operations manager Jay Downing said.

Instead of demolishing slabs to prune roots and smooth ground underneath, the device picks it up to be used again later.

Over the past few years, the city has repaired about 1,000 feet of sidewalk using the tool.

“This machine helps us avoid having to remove otherwise good condition sidewalk,” he said. “It saves a ton in concrete and labor.”

Before getting the Big Sidewalk Sucker, the city’s sidewalk projects took a lot of time and money. Crews would break up the sidewalk, dig into the ground, trim tree roots, redo the ground with pea gravel and root barrier, and contract with a company to pour the concrete.

Now the city can do most of that, including some of the concrete pouring, without contractors. That saves some time in scheduling, though it is faster to just demolish concrete than it is to carefully lift and place it.

The city’s recently wrapped sidewalk repair program covered 175 feet that needed ground work. But only about 45 feet of sidewalk needed concrete poured because the rest was lifted by the Big Sidewalk Sucker.

A crew of three people works the new device.

One person operates the excavator, which holds the Big Sidewalk Sucker with chains. Another maneuvers it and the concrete panel using handles, and a third is there to assist and make sure nobody is walking through the area. No one wants several hundred pounds of sidewalk falling on their foot.

“There’s a lot of moving pieces,” Downing said.

Arlington followed the lead of DuPont, a city of over 10,000 residents in Pierce County, which got a Big Sidewalk Sucker in 2016. The city bought it for $8,699 and touted it for saving money in sidewalk repair costs. It has become an important enough tool that DuPont bought a backup unit the next year.

Snohomish County Public Works is in on The Big Sidewalk Sucker, too. Or at least that technology. The county bought a sidewalk panel lifter for $8,319.68 in October.

Crews use it where more common cast-in-place maintenance work is no longer necessary. But some concrete panels are damaged beyond reuse with the tool.

Snohomish County maintains over 500 miles of sidewalks, with most in the southwest area. Reports from the public help identify where problems are and where to prioritize maintenance work, spokesperson Matt Phelps said.

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