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The FHWA will no longer provide links to web sites of SUE providers. It is not possible, nor the role of the FHWA, to determine which firms are truly providing SUE services as the FHWA believes they should be provided and which firms are not. The following paragraphs describe the FHWA's concept of SUE. All providers claiming to provide SUE services are encouraged, as a minimum, to adhere to these basic principles.

Subsurface Utility Engineering evolved from the concepts of providing better utility mapping on documents. However, in the past decade it has grown significantly. It is now defined as a branch of civil engineering practice dedicated to managing the risks of underground utilities. The original "designating" and "locating" functions are but two of many tools that are necessary to accomplish this management. Firms who do only "designating and locating" will be hard pressed to make a case that they practice subsurface utility engineering; they are only providing a map. Indeed, firms offering only this limited scope may inadvertently be negating the great strides SUE has made.

SUE may best be described by the series of responsibilities of the engineer and project owner as outlined in the ASCE/ANSI Standard Guidelines for the Collection and Depiction of Existing Subsurface Utility Data. The following synopsis illustrates this responsibility.

In general, the engineer should have enough knowledge about utilities (e.g. costs to move, installation practices, design considerations, safety issues) to consider risk factors for a particular project. The engineer should have knowledge of federal, state, and local accommodation policies so that cost responsibilities can be estimated since cost is certainly a risk. The engineer should be able to put together a preliminary cost estimate, based upon utility prior rights and likely adjustment schemes. The engineer should be able to assist the project owner in negotiating a scope of work that fits the project's needs, rather than just regurgitating the standard mapping scope ("designating" and "locating") in existence since the 1980s. Such a scope might include what quality levels to use, when to use them, when and how to communicate data to others in the design process and so forth. The engineer should be able to produce that mapping. The engineer should be able to identify potential conflicts with the design footprint and offer sensible and practical avoidance alternatives to the designers. When avoidance is not practical, the engineer should be able to offer up detailed relocation plans and their costs. The engineer should be able to communicate information to the constructors through unambiguous mapping deliverables, written reports, and/or verbal briefings.

The FHWA believes that SUE providers must distance themselves from the images of paint marks on the ground and vacuum trucks as the primary representations of a subsurface utility engineering firm. They should focus instead upon the judgment that engineers provide throughout the life of a project, and the deliverables produced that reflect that judgment.

Updated: 04/23/2019
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000