Why Utility Coordination is Key to Project Success

Team 4M | 
April 24, 2022

When project owners look at the utility landscape of a new project for the first time, they’re likely to face a challenging reality. In any site, they may need to work around oil and gas pipelines, water lines, telecommunications cables, and electric and power cables--and all with no guarantee that these subsurface utilities are located correctly, if at all, on the map.

To succeed in a challenging utility landscape, project owners, project managers, and engineers need to practice utility coordination. Effective utility coordination that integrates all utility stakeholders is key to completing projects safely, on time, and on budget.

In this post, we’ll touch on the following points:
  • Why is utility coordination important?
  • Who are the major stakeholders in setting a strategy for successful utility coordination?
  • How can utility mapping play a role in successful utility coordination?

Why is utility coordination important?

We’ve discussed at length on this blog the potential cost of not getting utilities right, as well as how unmitigated utility risk can turn any project into an expensive nightmare. Project owners and project managers without a well-established strategy for utility coordination run the risk of project delays, costly utility relocations, and expensive and dangerous utility strikes.

Utility coordination helps all stakeholders in the construction process mitigate utility risk by facilitating communication and information exchange early in the project process. The Common Ground Alliance (CGA) defines utility coordination as: “Project owners and facility owners/operators regularly communicate and coordinate with each other concerning future and current projects.”

By setting a coherent utility strategy from the outset, project owners and project managers can keep their projects on track. That requires balancing and coordinating between the many utility stakeholders that need to work together to provide a complete picture of the utility landscape for a project.

Who are some of the major stakeholders involved in setting a strategy for successful utility coordination?

State Regulatory Commissions:

State regulatory commissions often hold databases showing the locations of many subsurface utilities. The Texas Railroad Commission, for example, holds extensive as-built data of oil and gas pipelines across the state of Texas. State commissions and Departments of Transportation also hold information on utilities that pass through the public Right of Way.

Municipal and county governments:

Local governments have records of easements and some privately-held pipelines, as well as large amounts of as-built data. While this data is often incomplete and not entirely reliable, it’s an important element of the utility coordination process.

Utility owners (Public Agencies and Private Owners):

Oil & gas, telecommunications, electric, water and renewable energy utility owners have as-built utility data for their production sites and transmission lines.  Much of this as-built data can be confidential and privately held information, and it can be difficult to access early in the project lifecycle.

Subsurface Underground Engineering (SUE) providers:

SUE companies specialize in locating underground utilities. These engineers use a range of different locating methods, including ground-penetrating radar (GPR), vacuum excavation, potholing, electromagnetic locating, and metal detection.

811 Centers:

811 “Call before you dig” centers offer free utility marking services in every state. These services receive as-built data from public and private utilities and mark the locations of subsurface utilities in a project site using paint markings and flags. However, 811 services are only as good as the as-built data that they receive—which is often incomplete and unreliable. Calling 811  before beginning to dig is a legal requirement across the US for every project that involves significant excavation.

construction excavation

How can utility mapping play into existing utility coordination methods?

Utility mapping can be a crucial tool for successful utility coordination. It provides one central reliable source of data that combines existing as-built sources with extensive visual-analysis and AI based subsurface information, giving everyone a more complete understanding of the subsurface. Utility mapping can find discrepancies between as-built data and real-world conditions, allowing all stakeholders to dodge unwelcome surprises later in the project lifecycle.

By getting an early look at subsurface utility conditions in the conceptual and pre-design phases, project owners, project managers, estimators and engineers can better understand the utility landscape of their projects. Armed with quality data gathered through remote sensing and computer-generated methods, they can make more effective bids, better allocate risk, and avoid costly redesigns later in the project delivery process.

Utility mapping can also allow SUE experts to confirm the location of utilities more efficiently in a project site, giving them a compass to guide their efforts and ensuring they don’t miss utilities that aren’t easily discoverable using common SUE tools. Remote utility mapping that integrates a range of data sources can also cut down on wasted time spent shuttling between state, county, municipal, and private data records. And it can help engineers create the most accurate as-builts possible as they close out a project—in turn, helping all stakeholders get paid on time.

Interested in seeing how utility mapping can help your next project? Contact us

Team 4M