Almost every single project that deals with construction, improvement, maintenance, or environmental management will involve utilities in some way.
Unfortunately, utilities are often the least visible component of a project, and the most difficult feature to document accurately.
But accurate information about subsurface utilities is crucial for a coordinated response to utility issues.
Without proper utility coordination, there are significant risks posed to the success of a project, especially in terms of schedule delays, budget overruns, and frustration among stakeholders as well as local communities of residents, travelers, or users.
Utility coordination is crucial to deal with a variety of conflicts or issues that may arise between existing infrastructure and planned changes or regulations. Conflicts can arise between:
Utility coordination can prevent delays, additional costs, need for design changes, and surprise discoveries on the job site due to these different kinds of conflicts.
Many problems can arise when utility coordination is not done on time, with comprehensive information, and without good communication between contractors and subcontractors. This can lead to:
Disruption to construction sites: When information about existing utilities is inaccurate or incomplete, when abandoned utilities are not documented, when changes in infrastructure are not updated throughout the project phases.
Accidental utility strikes and damages: Causing interruptions to service, health and safety risks, and release of hazardous or explosive liquids or gases.
Environmental impacts: Due to late discovery of abandoned utilities made of obsolete materials which require special handling, or due to leakage or contamination of surrounding soil.
Unnecessary utility relocation or service interruption: Due to late discovery of conflicts between existing and planned facilities and inadequate planning for design accommodation.
Project schedule and budget overruns: Due to late discovery of conflicts causing the need for design changes, construction halts, new contractor bids, possible litigation, and greater disruption to public.
Utility coordination encompasses multiple elements including communication protocol, data collection, data management, design strategy, construction strategy, and asset management.
Effective communication protocols are necessary between project owners and utility stakeholders in order to keep all parties up to date and in alignment on the project status. This entails due diligence in the preparation, negotiation, and execution of agreements, documents, bids, contracts, and permits.
Utility data collection must be carried out strategically and effectively for each project based on availability of records, accessibility of site, adequate budgeting for subsurface utility engineering, and comprehensive search methods. Utility mapping is a cost-effective and rapid way of collecting data on subsurface utilities remotely, so that subsurface utility locating and designating can be done on-site more effectively in later project phases.
Utility data management needs to integrate the collected data, make the data easily available to stakeholders, and provide the tools to use the data effectively. This includes managing metadata such as quality level of collected data as well as utility type, age, content, material, and ownership. All geographic data must be reconciled on a consistent and reliable base plan or 3D modeling space. Furthermore, changes to utilities or other key data, which can happen at any point throughout the project timeline, must be effectively highlighted and communicated to project stakeholders. Effective utility data management will help to avoid, minimize or accommodate conflicts between existing utilities and proposed project features, and resolve such conflicts using a systematic approach.
Design strategy should be intelligently applied to prevent unnecessary utility relocations, resolve unavoidable conflicts with as little impact and disruption as possible, and align project interests with cost-effective “protect-in-place” measures for existing utilities. This includes careful coordination of project scheduling and intelligent phasing. A good design strategy must also avoid intractable conflicts and prepare for potential alternative design solutions in the worst-case scenario that abandoned or unknown utilities are discovered late in the project timeline or even actual construction.
Construction strategy must follow strict protocols and perform due diligence to protect existing utilities, create new design interventions to a high standard, and conclude the project with high-quality records for future use. Construction strategy includes procedures such as excavating, exposing, protecting, building, monitoring, inspecting, and surveying on-site utilities. In addition, design changes or deviations must be properly documented so that the as-built or as-constructed records include comprehensive and accurate location data based on what was actually built on site. Construction strategy must also include compliance, permitting, traffic impacts, worker safety, environmental safety, access, etc.
Utility asset management goes beyond individual design projects, and considers utilities over their entire lifespan, from planning, design, and construction to maintenance, improvement, and eventual decommissioning. Asset management includes methods for accommodating, permitting, managing, documenting, and assessing utility facility conditions within the right-of-way and throughout their lifecycle, thus preventing disruptions, design redundancies, lack of documentation, negative environmental impacts, accidental strikes, and avoidable health risks.
Utility coordination has several benchmarks for progress throughout the project timeline, as well as absolute limits on the latest execution of certain required steps. In all cases, utility locations should be investigated as early as possible, and as soon as the budget and project managing resources can allow. Utility mapping has the benefit that it is possible to commission and execute earlier than on-site utility locating, and for a lower cost, to get comprehensive data as soon as possible.
The essential strategy of utility coordination is to accommodate existing utilities, protect utilities in place during construction, design around existing utilities, or relocate utilities when there is no other option or when it is financially, logistically, materially, or environmentally preferable given the status, age, and location of the existing utilities and the options for improvement.
Utility coordination tools include itemized conflict lists, utility plans, investigation deliverables, project plans, site visit reports, right-of-way plans, structural and environmental analysis, schedules, installation specifications, accommodation protocols, professional industry and legal standards, and negotiations and collaborations with utility owners and other stakeholders.
Utility coordination describes issues and identifies preferred resolutions, for example:
It is crucial to keep in mind that different stakeholders will almost certainly have different priorities for utility coordination. Preserving, accommodating, or altering a utility will have different ramifications for the longevity of the utility, disruption of service, environmental compliance, availability of public funding, impacts on nearby residents or users of a utility, complexity of design, access and right-of-way acquisition, etc.
Some important questions to consider when choosing strategies for utility coordination:
To sum up, the best practices for utility coordination may include:
Without a doubt, the single most important factor for successful utility coordination is early, comprehensive utility data collection and management. All utility coordination issues can be more easily avoided with advance knowledge, and better resolved with more time before critical deadlines pass for design approval and breaking ground on construction sites.
Utility mapping is one of the most powerful tools to gather information about infrastructure on and around the area of interest. Utility mapping can be used to discover abandoned utilities and correct faulty or incomplete as-builts, even when working remotely and with no boots on the ground. And it can achieve these results quickly and cost-effectively, making it ideal for the planning and early preliminary design phases.
Utility coordination can hit a much higher standard of performance if utility mapping is implemented early in the project timeline, and used consistently to manage utility changes to the site between project phases.
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and see how we can shine some light on your utility strategy.