A John Deere Publication

As one of the most trusted underground contractors in New Orleans, Louisiana, Subterranean Construction is playing a pivotal role in rebuilding the city's aging infrastructure.

Summer 2024

In The Trenches


Building Trust In The Big Easy

Clock Icon 5 MIN READ

In a historic neighborhood just a few miles from downtown New Orleans, a narrow residential street has been temporarily transformed into a bustling jobsite.

A pair of John Deere excavators moves massive amounts of earth and heavy pieces of drainage pipe while a lone skid steer serves as the jack-of-all-trades for other tasks. The constant chatter of the eight-man crew from Subterranean Construction rises above the hum of machinery, ensuring the project's moving parts stay connected.

Subterranean Owner Evan Conravey strides onto the jobsite with an air of urgency and a sense of purpose. He greets his crew with firm handshakes and unwavering eye contact.

He's here not only to track the progress of the project but also to check in with his people. Because on a job like this, you need a team operating at the top of its game.

"You need guys that are not complacent," he says, as rays of sunshine peek out from behind the clouds above. "You need people with a work ethic, people who are responsible, and people who want to do the work."

Determination. Reliability. Trust. These are the traits it takes to be part of Conravey's team.

Conravey launched Subterranean more than 20 years ago. True to its name, the company has specialized in underground construction from day one. It's a niche that comes with constant challenges. And this particular project is a case in point.

Subterranean's crew is tasked with removing and replacing the water and sewer infrastructure that resides beneath the road's surface. Long power lines droop down over the deconstructed roadway. Water mains lurk just beneath the dirt. Potential pitfalls abound. A mix of power and precision is the only way to press ahead.

"It's hard work," Conravey says matter-of-factly. "But it's not supposed to be easy. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it."

Close to Home

For Conravey, the Big Easy has always been home. He was born and raised in the New Orleans metro area. Now 60 years old, he says he has never felt the itch to live anywhere else.

"New Orleans is very unique," Conravey says. "It's a melting pot — the culture, the food, the music. It's just a special place."

It's also a city that has seen its share of hardship.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina unleashed a deadly and devastating fury on the city, resulting in over 1,800 fatalities and causing north of $100 billion in damage. In the wake of the tragedy, the federal government issued emergency funding that helped New Orleans find its footing in the short term and bolster its infrastructure in the long term.

All funds had to be utilized within 20 years, meaning a flurry of infrastructure upgrades are now being completed as that deadline looms. As one of the most trusted local contractors, Subterranean's crews are among the few capable of pulling off the work.

"When contractors from up north come here for work, they usually just do one job and flee because it is so difficult," Conravey says as he smiles wide and shakes his head. "Southeast Louisiana is really unique because of our soil conditions. It's sandy and it's wet, and that can be difficult to work in."

Despite these challenges, Conravey doesn't lose sight of how important the work is. Much of the water and sewer piping is over a century old and in grave need of upgrades — a fact that isn't lost on those in the community.

Nearby homeowners peek through their windows to check on progress. Parents walk their kids around the fringes of the jobsite so they can catch a glimpse of the machines at work.

"It's an inconvenience to have a construction site in front of your home," Conravey says, gesturing toward the residences that abut the ongoing work. "But they know it's work that needs to be done. They'll have a brand- new sewer main that doesn't infiltrate when it rains. They'll have very good, high-quality drinking water. It's a big benefit to everybody. And we take pride in being able to help our city that way."

Embracing the Challenge

Recognizing the benefits of a project is one thing. Actually getting it across the finish line is quite another — especially given the myriad challenges associated with this particular undertaking.

It's a duty that is largely shouldered by Darryl Kennedy, the mainline operator on this job and a savvy industry vet with over 30 years of construction experience. Even with that breadth of expertise, Kennedy takes nothing for granted on the jobsite.

"There is a lot going on," he says, scratching at a slowly graying beard as he talks. "You've got aboveground utilities, you have underground utilities, you have people walking through the jobsite. You've got to look up, you've got to look down. You have to be aware of everything around you. But it's all good. I like the challenge."

Navigating these obstacles is only possible with the right machine — one that combines power with precision to do big things in small spaces. Subterranean is running multiple John Deere machines on this jobsite, including an 85 P-Tier Excavator and a 310SL Backhoe.

Soft-spoken and self-assured, Kennedy spends his days in the company's mid-size 135G Excavator. "Some machines have these big old backs on them, but the 135G is different. With the reduced tail swing, you can swing the machine and navigate these tight spaces. The power is great. It's also a really versatile machine compared to others I have operated. The 135G does a lot of things and does them all well."

It's also a machine that answers the bell day after day. And in an industry where deadlines are tight, that kind of reliability goes a long way.

"The main machine has to keep the job going," Kennedy says. "If I'm down, then nothing moves. If I stop, everything stops — then we're not making money and we're not making progress. So I gotta keep moving. John Deere allows us to do that. I've run a lot of machines in my lifetime, and you can't say that about all of them. John Deere makes a very reliable machine."

Guiding Beliefs

In the rare and brief minutes of respite on the jobsite, Conravey fills the silence with old stories and pearls of hard- earned wisdom.

He started in the construction industry at the age of 17, fudging the details on his job application to say he was actually a year older. Within five years, he had been elevated to the position of foreman.

Conravey started Subterranean in the late 1990s with a half-dozen employees — a true "mom-and-pop shop," as he calls it. In the second year, as the holidays approached, money was so tight that he had to take out a loan to pay his workers a Christmas bonus.

"It was a struggle," Conravey recalls. "But I knew there were guys depending on that bonus to buy their family nice things. I'd rather ruin my own holiday and take care of them."

Subterranean's staff has grown to nearly 50 today. But that sense of purpose and duty — that commitment to doing right by the people who surround him — remains Conravey's guiding force to this day.

Determination. Reliability. Trust.

He expects the same out of his fleet of machines, knowing that a day of downtime here or there can derail an entire project.

"These machines give us a huge edge. They allow us to do what we do," says Conravey. "And my John Deere dealer is top-notch. They're there when you need them, and they back up what they say."

As the afternoon draws to a close, neighborhood children return from school, taking a quick glance at the jobsite to peer at machines and observe the ongoing transformation.

Conravey estimates his crew will wrap up work on this particular stretch of road by the end of the week. Then it's on to the next block. The location and project will change, but the fundamental approach will remain the same.

"In business and in life, there are a handful of things I believe in very strongly," Conravey says. "I think you need those things to guide you. It keeps you moving in the right direction."

Subterranean Construction is serviced by Doggett Machinery Services, St. Rose, Louisiana.



An icon showing a long pipe

20-Feet Long

Water mains come in 20-foot sections. Moving these large pipes can be complicated when gas lines, power lines, and nearby homes need to be avoided.

Icon showing a dozer digging a deep trench

15+-Feet Deep

Water and sewer infrastructure is often placed deep underground.

An icon showing multiple construction workers

6+ Crews

Crews include multiple people, with a group of laborers supporting the mainline operator. 

An icon showing an old leaking pipe

100+ Years

Much of the water and sewer infrastructure in New Orleans is more than a century old.

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