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By Matt Stoops, Infrastructure Project Manager
As a project manager in construction, I often encounter a number of different challenges on any given day. Many times those challenges are unseen because they are underground. That’s right: utilities.
There are a ton of different utility lines (gas, water, sewer, electrical, communication, fiber optics, drainage, gas/oil pipelines) that zig zag all over the country. It is amazing how much utility infrastructure exists, and how much has already been used and abandoned. Often times the utility owners are not able to accurately locate their lines, confirm if they are in use or abandoned, or even know if a line of theirs might exist or not. When contractors call in a locate request, the marks & flagging that are put out on the ground to locate a line can be up to 3’ off from where the line actually is.
Typically it is the equipment operators that first discover these unknown utilities when installing drainage pipe, or doing general excavation for new pavements or retaining walls. When they encounter an unexpected utility line(s), the operation that was in progress typically comes to an immediate halt, causing a lot of headaches. While the contractor might be able to divert man power and equipment to another part of the project, there is still usually some amount of wasted time & efficiency when we have to change operations.
To overcome the obstacle, we first start out brainstorming ideas with the contractor. The ideal course of action would be to work around the utility, because that typically is the fastest resolution. Also, working around the utility instead of relocating or adjusting the utility allows us to remain in control of our own work instead of depending on some other 3rd party. Unfortunately, sometimes we find that the utility must be relocated and then we must begin that cumbersome process (typically at least a one month-long process):
- Utilities must devise a plan to relocate or adjust
- The involved parties need to settle on who is paying for the relocation
- The utility will hire a contractor to oversee the relocation
- The relocation construction begins
While these unexpected utility lines are absolutely an obstacle in completing some of our projects, we find that we’re generally able to overcome the issue. It takes some creative thinking to avoid impacts, but that’s just part of the job!