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Avoiding Utility Relocations
This manual, Avoiding Utility Relocations, was prepared for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in accordance with Research Development and Technology Transfer Order DTFH61-01-P-00237, pursuant to recommendations in 2000 by the AASHTO Highway Subcommittee on Right of Way and Utilities and by the AASHTO/FHWA European Scanning Team on Right of Way and Utilities.
The purpose of the work was to develop a manual that encouraged highway designers to avoid unnecessary utility relocations in the designs for which they are responsible. This was accomplished by identifying both the value of avoiding relocations on highway construction projects, and the technologies and techniques that can be used to achieve this goal.
Nichols Consulting Engineers, Chtd. is responsible for the development of this manual. Any questions or comments should be directed to:
Nichols Consulting Engineers would like to acknowledge the following individuals who contributed to the preparation and review of this document.
John N. Munson, P.E. Nichols Consulting Engineers
Conflicts between underground utilities and the alignment, grade, and drainage of new and expanding streets and highways are now all too frequent in this country. The environments of the urban and sub-urban underground are a complex web of utility lines including electric, telephone, cable TV, fiber optics, traffic signals, natural gas, water, sanitary and storm sewers, and it is nearly impossible for a road project to be free of conflict. The proliferation of underground facilities has reached the point where project budgets and schedules can no longer support the multiple unplanned and unnecessary relocations typical of highway projects.
From the utility’s perspective, an unexpected request, or order, to move a facility means unscheduled work and unplanned expense. Even scheduled work on a highway project that is delayed due to a change in the DOT’s program or project plan may mean that supplies purchased for that job can’t be used, or equipment is mobilized to the wrong location. If a facility must be moved, it may mean service disruption, and even higher user costs as the expenses for relocation are passed through the system. In the worst cases, the unplanned work may lead to litigation between the agency and the utility, the utility and the contractor, or the contractor and the agency. Unplanned and unnecessary utility relocations must be avoided.
The problem is that highway designers have little motivation to avoid utility relocations under the typical design processes. Designers are usually rated on how fast they get the project designed, and efforts to “design around” existing utilities to avoid relocation often involve consideration of several alternatives, including cost estimation and comparison. This extra work extends the design time and increases the design budget. The same applies when an outside design consultant is used, as the additional time spent on design alternatives is clearly extra work, and it is often difficult for the consultant to negotiate design change orders. When the designer works only with where the utilities might be, or where they ought to be, the likelihood of encountering an undocumented facility during construction is much higher.
The information from practitioners points to a needed shift in the utility-related design process. Historically, utility information has been added to the highway plans at the 60% design stage for the sole purpose of determining where the conflicts will require relocation of utilities. At 60% design, there is little that can be done to ameliorate a conflict, short of a major plan revision. A major plan revision at this late stage could significantly delay the target bid date, and would therefore need to demonstrate significant project cost or construction schedule savings to be approved.
In the past, the utility relocation might have been the sole responsibility of the utility company. Depending on the terms under which they are located in the right of way, they would have been ordered to move, within a specific time frame that supported the construction schedule. They may have been given the option to use the contractor working on the government project, but the expense would be theirs. Recent changes in the practices related to reimbursement have shifted many of those costs from the utility to the federal funding available for the project. Funds diverted from programmed projects to utility relocations on other projects thus affect the entire workload and funding allocations for a DOT.
The alternatives that surfaced in this study center on identifying the potential conflicts early in the design process – at the 30% design stage, or sooner. At that stage, the creative solutions listed in the report are feasible, and can be accommodated in the design and construction work ahead. Utilities, while a tangible part of project cost and schedule, need not be a problem or a contributor to project cost overruns and delays.
To “design around” utilities, we must know where they are. The technology exists today to verify the presence of almost any type of buried utility, and to positively determine its location, size, and composition using non-destructive excavation methods. There are professional licensed engineers, geologists, and surveyors who have specialized in the use and interpretation of these technologies, known as Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE). These specialized consultants accept the liability for the interpretation and subsequent reliance on the results of their investigations by highway designers and contractors. There is documentation to support project savings of $4.62 for every $1 spent on SUE. The FHWA advocates the use of SUE, as well as programs for effective and continued communication, coordination and cooperation among DOT planners and designers, and the utility owners and operators within their jurisdiction.
Research for this manual included:
The key findings of this manual are:
Slope/Retaining Wall/Barrier Changes and Additions
The message from this manual is that there are many opportunities to reduce and resolve the conflicts between highway construction and the utilities located nearby. The opportunities fall into two categories: system changes and operational changes.
To take advantage of a system change, the highway agency could look at:
To take advantage of operational changes:
This manual provides ideas in each of these areas. We hope that it is an additional resource for highway agencies and utilities, supporting their mutual commitment to the continuous improvement of services to the traveling public.