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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-20-001    Date:  Autumn 2019
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-20-001
Issue No: Vol. 83 No. 3
Date: Autumn 2019


Meet the SHRP2 Utilities Bundle

by Maggie Kasperski

Utility conflicts can present major delays, costs, and headaches for transportation agencies, but avoiding them just got easier.

A pickup truck pulls a trailer with a utility strike prevention tool  down a road. © ODOT
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) used Multi-Channel Ground Penetrating Radar instrumentation as part of the SHRP2 R01B Utility Investigation Technologies product.

Each time a shovel hits the ground on a transportation project, a utility strike is possible. After all, more than 35 million miles (56 million kilometers) of known underground utilities exist in the United States and many more remain unidentified. Telephone and internet cables, electric and gas lines, and pipes (both large and small) are all at risk when a transportation agency digs into the earth.

The best way for a transportation agency to avoid utility strikes is to know exactly what lies underground at a given location. Agencies need every possible advantage to detect and manage utility conflicts. Enter the second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2), which created a collection of tools for transportation agencies that address common transportation challenges—including utility location—through a partnership between the Federal Highway Administration, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and the Transportation Research Board.

After years of research, 63 products were born out of SHRP2, each tested by State departments of transportation (DOTs) through the Implementation Assistance Program (IAP). The IAP provided States with financial assistance and technical expertise to see if SHRP2 products helped save time, money, and lives by addressing common transportation problems.

Often, the inability to properly locate utilities costs State DOTs time and money because of related delays and inaccuracies. To help solve the utility location issue, SHRP2 created a suite of tools to correctly identify, map, and manage utilities. This set of tools includes three separate products, often referred to as the "utilities bundle" when combined, that can help State DOTs and other transportation agencies mitigate potential negative effects related to utilities and transportation projects.

Utility Investigation Technologies

The first SHRP2 utilities product, Utility Investigation Technologies (R01B) (previously called Utility Locating Technologies), consists of two geophysical technologies that can help transportation agencies gather more detailed information about subsurface conditions, position, and depth of utilities. SHRP2 research and implementation partners identified the Multi-Channel Ground Penetrating Radar (MCGPR) technology first, but users found it did not perform well in clay-rich soils. SHRP2 partners then introduced Time Domain Electromagnetic Induction (TDEMI) as an alternative technology. TDEMI works in any geologic setting, but it cannot detect nonmetallic utilities without a tracer wire.

Six State DOTs (Arkansas, California, Indiana, Montana, Ohio, and Oregon) tested the R01B product technologies as part of the SHRP2 IAP. The IAP States generally found the benefits to be worth the effort. Most IAP States identified the technologies as a cost-effective way to augment the subsurface utility engineering (SUE) process of locating utilities. State DOTs reported saving time, increasing accuracy, and improving the overall success rates of defining utilities during the design phase of a transportation project.

"Historically, one of our largest sources of construction cost overruns and time delays has been utility conflicts," says Christopher Pucci, project surveyor with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). "[We got involved in R01B with] the hope that spending some money upfront doing a more thorough utility investigation could save a lot of money in construction. [After using these technologies,] we can't continue the way we had been going, knowing what we know now. We can get better utility locations, we can avoid a majority of utility conflicts through more informed design, and we can save time and money in construction."

A person in a safety jacket stands on pavement and holds a pipe and cable locator tool. © ODOT
A contractor uses a pipe and cable locator to mark underground utilities.

ODOT also identified some lessons learned when working with R01B. In its final report, ODOT stated that the technology is complicated and requires "considerable time and skill to process and evaluate" the data, integrate the existing SUE information, and evaluate the combined results into a 3D model. ODOT also pointed out the importance of knowing whether the project requires 3D deliverables or 2D deliverables because the cost difference may be significant.

Identifying and Managing Utility Conflicts

The second product in the utilities bundle, Identifying and Managing Utility Conflicts (R15B), includes several tools transportation agencies can incorporate into existing business practices to identify and resolve utility conflicts. These tools include a stand-alone template for utility conflict lists, a utility conflict data model and database, and a 1-day utility conflict management training course. Eighteen State DOTs participated in the IAP for R15B. Participating States included California, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.

The benefits of R15B include time savings through earlier identification and solutions, more effective management of conflicts through the project development and delivery process, fewer contractor change orders and delay claims, a reduction of costs stemming from delays, better communication between transportation agencies and utilities, a reduced impact on the traveling public, and improved safety for workers.

Diagram of the lifecycle of utility data management. During the lifecycle of a transportation project after construction ends, a State department of transportation must process a multiplicity of permit applications from utility owners. Departments of transportation collect these permits in a variety of ways, including utility permits, maintenance permits, and encroachment permits. Arrows show how each process feeds into the next: utility investigation feeds into utility conflict management, utility conflict management feeds into utility design, and utility design feeds into utility construction management. Each process also has a two-way communication channel with the utility data repository. The lifecycle spans planning/preliminary design, design, and construction phases of a highway construction project. For corridor maintenance and operations, the lifecycle spans maintenance permit review, approval, and utility installation. © Texas A&M Transportation Institute
This diagram demonstrates the life cycle of utility data management at a State DOT. The SHRP2 3D Utility Location Data Repository (R01A) is a state-of-the-art 3D storage and retrieval data model.

"We realized significant improvements in our utility accommodations process as a result of the SHRP2 R15B product," says Charon Williams, director of the utility portfolio at the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Right of Way Division. "We experienced estimated savings of $10 million and about 38 months on our five pilot projects. So, we are definitely encouraged by the results. We are planning statewide implementation of R15B in the fall."

States interested in implementing R15B should begin with the lessons learned from other State DOTs. One lesson is that standardization of utility conflict management is critical, as consultants, contractors, and utility owners frequently operate across district boundaries. In addition, TxDOT found that the 1-day utility conflict management training course was important in obtaining buy-in from stakeholders for the R15B product.

3D Utility Location Data Repository

Lastly, the 3D Utility Location Data Repository (R01A) is a state-of-the-art 3D storage and retrieval data model that provides the horizontal and vertical location of the facility as well as the type of utility. The product provides benefits in the design, field data collection, and construction areas of transportation projects. Designers may alter their designs to accommodate extensive utility locations, which saves money by avoiding costly utility moves. Collecting data in a single operation also cuts costs. Eleven State DOTs took advantage of the SHRP2 IAP for R01A.

"Having a centralized, enterprise-level utility data repository offers significant advantages and potential compared to the stand-alone concept that existed prior to the R01A implementation," says Donna Fanelli Rodrick, transportation surveyor with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), which used all three SHRP2 utility products. "We plan to use the utility database to store, retrieve, and update data and make it part of the utility verification process we use on each project."

Caltrans and other IAP State participants agreed that the most important lesson they took away from implementation is to obtain and maintain buy-in from the agency's administration, as leadership is often unaware of the importance of managing utility data effectively. The State DOTs also suggested first pursuing a relatively simple utility data repository approach, focusing on "low-hanging fruit" while learning the process.

As SHRP2 wound down during summer 2019, many IAP States planned to continue the work they began during the program by carrying these utility products forward.

"We have revised our schematic contracts to include utility coordination and conflict identification in the preliminary phases of design," says Anna Pulido, utility manager with TxDOT. "This is just the beginning of many more things to come."

Maggie Kasperski is the communications and marketing manager with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. She holds a bachelor's degree in public relations from the State University of New York at Fredonia, and two master's degrees (in public relations and international relations) from Syracuse University.

For more information, see http://shrp2.transportation.org/Pages/UtilityRelatedProducts.aspx or contact Julie Johnston, utilities and value engineering program manager with FHWA, at julie.johnston@dot.gov.



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