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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-21-001    Date:  Autumn 2020
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-21-001
Issue No: Vol. 84 No. 3
Date: Autumn 2020


Training Update

Resolving Conflict in Utility Management

by Gay Dugan and Amber Clark

A man in a hard hat works on a touch-screen laptop on a construction site.
Subsurface utility engineering can reduce utility conflicts and increase safety for highway construction.

Unknown utility conflicts on a highway project can result in increased risks to highway contractors, which translate into higher bids, increased hazards for highway workers and the public, and potential cost increases and delays during the construction of a project. The inability to obtain reliable underground utility information has long been a troublesome problem for highway designers across the United States.

To address the issue, some States have implemented a process of conducting subsurface utility investigations to accurately identify the location of these utilities. This engineering practice is known as subsurface utility engineering (SUE). The proper and successful use of SUE benefits both highway agencies and the impacted utilities, avoiding unnecessary utility relocations, eliminating conflicts with utilities, and enhancing safety.

Accurate utility information is available to highway designers early enough in the development of a project to allow them to "design around" many potential conflicts. This significantly reduces costly relocations normally necessitated by highway construction projects and reduces delays to the project caused by waiting for utility work to be completed before highway construction can begin.

Using SUE reduces or eliminates utility conflicts because the exact location of virtually all utilities can be determined and accurately shown on the construction plans. This reduces the number of delays caused by redesign when construction cannot follow the original design due to utility conflicts, or from cutting, damaging, or discovering unidentified utility lines. It also reduces the number of contractors' claims for delays resulting from unexpected encounters with utilities.

Effective SUE also increases safety. When excavation or grading work can be shifted away from existing utilities, damage to a utility that might result in personal injury, property damage, and the release of product into the environment becomes less likely.

National Highway Institute logo.

Achieving Success with NHI

The National Highway Institute (NHI) recently launched two new courses in its Construction and Maintenance program area to help meet the training needs of Federal Highway Administration division officials, highway designers, and project managers. These new web-based trainings highlight the importance of using utility elements to help agencies achieve success in highway projects.

In spring 2020, NHI released one of its latest web-based trainings, Preparing and Communicating Effective Utility Relocation Requirements (FHWA-NHI-134117). This 3.5-hour course offers valuable information on the need for agreements and their requirements in the utility coordination process. Participants will learn to correct inefficiencies that may occur during the process in their specified projects.

"This class is critical to understanding the requirements that go into utility accommodation, relocation, and reimbursement," says Julie Johnston, a utilities program manager at FHWA's Office for Preconstruction, Construction, and Pavements.

Successful completion of this training requires participants to have basic plan reading ability and working knowledge of SUE.

Utility Investigations (course FHWA-NHI-134208) is a 3.5-hour self-paced training course, launched in May 2020. The course provides an overview of methods and practices for conducting utility investigations during project delivery.

"Utilities are one of the leading causes of delays in construction, and part of that is running into unknown utilities," says Johnston. "Effective utility investigation is a key part of reducing delays in construction."

Utility investigation is presented throughout the training as a comprehensive process to identify and document existing utility facilities. Participants will learn about the challenges that can occur from unknown utility conflicts and how to provide effective solutions to address them. This is an ideal course for people with basic plan reading ability, working knowledge of transportation project delivery methods, and high-level introduction to utility coordination.

There are no required prerequisites for the Utility Investigations course, but NHI strongly encourages learners to complete the Introduction to Utility Coordination for Highway Projects (FHWA-NHI-134006A) web-based training and Preparing and Communicating Effective Utility Relocation Requirements (FHWA-NHI-134117) web-based training prior to taking this course.

How to Attend or Host a Course

NHI invites professionals interested in earning continuing education units or professional development hours to visit www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov/home.aspx and browse the complete digital course catalog, which encompasses more than 400 courses spanning 18 program areas. To sign up for alerts when a course session is scheduled, visit the individual course description page and select the "Sign Up for Session Alerts" link.

Interested hosts can submit a Host Request Form or find more information about hosting NHI courses by visiting www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov/home.aspx.

NHI is approved as an Accredited Provider by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET). As an IACET Accredited Provider, NHI offers continuing education units for its programs that qualify under the American National Standards Institute/IACET Standard.

Gay Dugan is an NHI training program manager.

Amber Clark is a contracted marketing analyst for NHI.