Many utilities occupy public rights-of-way. While some sit above ground, others run hidden underground. These utilities may have been there for decades or recently installed unbeknownst to others. So, it should come as no surprise that it can be challenging to identify what utilities exist, where they are and who owns each one. In fact, highway contractors will tell you that one of their number one fears is utility delays impacting their schedules.
That’s where utility coordinators come in. These professionals can introduce strategies to mitigate this fear by identifying the risk of utility conflicts early on. That’s why combining utility coordination with subsurface utility engineering (SUE) is our recipe for success!
Utility Coordinator Role
Utility coordinators are responsible for identifying utilities and implementing strategies to clear any conflicts that could arise. As such, they should have a vast technical understanding of the project as well as being well-versed in their state’s laws and regulations. But that’s not all.
While it’s important to understand the challenges, utility coordinators are also tasked with developing innovative ways to make all parties agreeable. So, to be truly effective, they must act as the liaison among stakeholders. This includes the state’s Department of Transportation (DOT), project designers and utility owners. That last one is key! Partnering with the utility industry is crucial for their buy-in, especially when it comes to potentially relocating their utilities.
It is the coordinator’s job to make sure any important information is being properly communicated to each party. More so, it is their responsibility to get these parties to coordinate together. Give everyone a seat at the table because successful collaboration is the best path to success.
What We Need to Consider
The typical answer for most designers is just to relocate all the utilities. But this may not be the best idea as it is neither quick nor is it cheap. And when taxpayers are bearing the biggest burden of that cost, finding the most cost-effective solution is crucial.
Another major concern is having an unrealistic relocation schedule. Many utility relocation schedules are based on the date the project goes out to bid. In most cases, this is near impossible. Relocation schedules should be defined and realistic.
Additionally, budgets for relocations. Are these relocations compensable, are they the solely at the expense of the utility agency? These are huge questions that need to be identified early in every project that may have utility impacts.
These issues are why it is critical to begin coordination during the early planning stage of the project. If the utility coordinator is proactive in collaborating with the design team, they can account for the concerns of all subgroups.
It is the intent of the utility coordinator to come up with a considerate and innovative solution that benefits both the design team and the utilities whenever possible. But they need accurate information to do so. The best way of obtaining that is by performing a subsurface utility investigation. SUE combines geophysics, surveying and civil engineering to provide a base map of existing underground activities. The result is based on the quality levels used.
ASCE 38-02 provides a standard system for classifying the accuracy of your utility information. It enables the engineer, contractor and project owner to develop strategies that reduce project risk.
There are four quality levels.
- D is information that comes from existing utility records.
- C is the mapping of above-ground utility appurtenances and correlating them with the existing utility records.
- B uses subsurface geophysical techniques and ground penetrating radar to determine horizontal positions of underground utilities.
- A uses non-evasive and non-destructive excavation methods to determine the precise horizontal and vertical position of underground utilities. By exposing the utility, it allows for identifying the material, size, condition and other visible characteristics.
When Do You Use SUE?
The simple answer? As early as you can! The information can help with negotiations and making informed decisions. This can prevent damages and reduce conflicts. Additionally, it can help spark conversations about potential relocations or relocations that can be avoided with design adjustments instead.
Hands down, SUE allows for better data and a better strategy. Using utility coordination in conjunction with SUE will result in your project’s success.
This article is part of our Webinar Blog Series. We turned directly to the experts who were excited to share their latest technologies, insights and strategies. If you have questions or would be interested in a Lunch and Learn about any of the topics covered, feel free to reach out to our presenters!