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Research and Development (R&D) Project Sites

Project Information
Project ID:   FHWA-PROJ-12-0043
Project Name:   Feasibility of Mapping and Marking Underground Utilities by State Highway Agencies
Project Status:   Active
Start Date:  September 3, 2012
End Date:  September 3, 2014
Contact Information
Last Name:  Duval
First Name:  Richard
Telephone:  202-493-3365
E-mail:  Richard.Duval@dot.gov
Office:   Office of Infrastructure Research and Development
Team:   Infrastructure Analysis and Construction Team [HRDI-20]
Project detail
Roadmap/Focus area(s):   Infrastructure Research and Technology Strategic Plan and Roadmap
Project Description:   This study investigates the feasibility of State highway administration (SHA) collecting and storing three-dimensional (3-D) utility location data, as well as marking utilities with current technology. The research products are a report describing the potential costs, benefits, and barriers involved in collecting, storing, and maintaining a 3-D utility location database and stand-alone implementation guidance for use by State agencies.
(1) Determine the willingness of both State highway administrations (SHAs) and utility owners to have SHAs be the central repository of utility data within their right-of-way (ROW).
(2) Determine the potential cost to a SHA to collect and maintain three-dimensional
(3-D) utility location data, as well as to mark utilities with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) (or similar) technology.
(3) Identify barriers SHAs may encounter in collecting, storing, and maintaining utility location data, as well as recommend ways to overcome these barriers.
(4) Document the potential benefits of having accurate utility location and characterization data available during the delivery of highway projects.
Background Information:   In August 2009, a Joint Committee representing the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the Associated General Contractors (AGC), and the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) was asked by Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Administrator Victor Mendez to provide recommendations on ways to accelerate highway construction. One of the recommendations relates to underground utilities, as follows: From the AASHTO-AGC-ARTBA Joint Committee letter to Victor Mendez Location and relocation of utilities continues to be one of the leading causes of delays for highway and bridge construction projects, regardless of size. Utilities located in highway right of way are often not accurately documented and mapped leading to potentially dangerous circumstances for workers, damage to facilities, disruption of service to customers, significant delays to construction activities, and delays in benefits being provided to highway users. Timely and accurate marking and/or relocation of utilities prior to the start of construction is an important step in expediting the completion of transportation infrastructure projects. Developing standards establishing responsibilities for utilities in highway right of way is essential. The second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2) funded several projects related to utilities. Renewal project S2–R15–RW, Integrating the Priorities of Transportation Agencies and Utility Companies (2009), reported the following conclusions: The R15 team of investigators believes the listed delay issues are systemic and indicate fundamental problems in DOT–UC [Department of Transportation – Utility Company] coordination. Although the research team found individual examples of success, it also found nearly universal core deficiencies. To improve performance, DOTs and utilities need to resolve the fundamental issues. The research team identified strategies for management techniques, process structure, and application of technology. Successful implementation of the strategies will require the following initiatives: 1. Operate as a team. [Departments of Transportation]DOTs and [utility companies] UCs need to operate as a team, interacting and cooperating in a partnership with a commitment to common goals, continuous communication, and organizational leadership. All other coordination improvement initiatives depend on this key improvement. 2. View utilities in highway [rights of way] ROWs as a [Department of Transportation] DOT responsibility. DOTs need to redefine their role to include being custodians of corridors that transport vehicles, people, power, communications, and other essential service to the public. As a unit of government, DOTs have a greater obligation than [utility companies] UCs to protect and provide for the interests of all citizens.  3. Understand and learn the technology and business processes of the other half of the DOT and UC team. Utility systems are complex; the highway design and construction process is multilayered. DOTs and UCs need to be able to speak the other’s language and know how they do business. 4. Improve location methods and mapping technologies. The current utilities location process is inaccurate and insufficient. Improvements in location precision and comprehensiveness, plus cost-efficient improvements, would significantly improve utility coordination. Complete and timely information is essential. Another Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) study, SHRP2 R01(A), Technologies to Support Storage, Retrieval, and Utilization of 3D Utility Location Data (scheduled completion, December 2012) is being conducted in order to “identify best practices for modeling, structuring, storing, retrieving, visualizing, and integrating 3-D utility data and to develop an innovative approach that leverages recent advances in technologies including, but not limited to, global positioning systems (GPS), ground penetrating radar, and geographical information systems (GIS).” The study is also looking at recent advancements, such as radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, or “marker balls,” which can store underground utility location/characterization data.   While these projects will potentially reduce project delays, improve safety, and reduce service interruptions due to damaged utilities, implementation of the recommendations will require substantial investment of funds and resources by State highway agencies (SHAs). Although the return on investment for money spent on early utility location has been documented in numerous studies (SHRP2 Report S2-R01-RW, Encouraging Innovation in Locating and Characterizing Underground Utilities, cites figures ranging from 4.6 to 1 to 22 to 1), SHAs must be able to quantify the investment necessary in order to set budgets and justify the additional cost before they can realize the potential benefits.  In addition to funding concerns, there are other barriers State highway agencies (SHAs) must overcome before collecting and storing 3-D utility location data, such as liability for data accuracy, long-term storage and maintenance of the electronic data, access to the data, and homeland security issues. These must be addressed before the benefits of accurate utility location data can be realized.
Product Type:   Other
Research report
Technical report
Test Methodology:   Surveys, data collection, cost/benefit analysis
Expected Benefits:   Reduce the impact of underground utilities on project delivery; improve safety.
Deliverables: 1. Name: Guidance document and analysis of the data and for the return on investment for the feasibility of mapping, marking, centrally storing of utility data.
Product Type(s): Research report, Technical report
Description: Report of project findings.
2. Name: Implementation Guidance.
Product Type(s): Research report, Technical report
Description: Stand-alone implementation document for guidance on developing a three-dimensional utility location database.
3. Name: TechBrief
Product Type(s): Research report, Techbrief
Description: Summary of project results and implementation guidance.
4. Name: Webinar
Product Type(s): Research report, Other
Description: Recorded webinar outlining project findings.
FHWA Topics:   Roads and Bridges--Construction and Project Management
TRT Terms:   Infrastructure
Public Utilities
Global Positioning System
Ground Penetrating Radar
FHWA Disciplines:   Construction and Project Management
Subject Areas:   Construction


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