Post-43 – Utility Coordination (Part 1)

[This is the first LinkedIn Post on the History of Utility Coordination as provided by SUE firms for State DOTs and other project owners]

I always thought that Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) and Utility Coordination (UC) were two separate services but Jim Anspach tells me that isn’t necessarily so. So, let’s go back in time today and see what Jim has to say about the first use of UC for a State DOT by a SUE firm:

Jim Anspach says:   

“In 1984 and before, VDOT called their entire coordination process a Utility Field Inspection (UFI).  The process was to notify utilities of a project, supply the utility owners with a set of design plans at the 60% – 90% stage, and ask them to draw their facilities on it.”  

“After receiving these drawings, a VDOT utility technician would combine all the utility drawings onto one plan set and take them into the field at the 90% stage of a project to draw on the overhead facilities and check the reasonableness of the underground utility depictions from what they could see of the valves, poles, and manhole lids.” 

“If utilities conflicted with the project and had to be relocated, utility owners were told in a group meeting just before construction to produce relocation plans forthwith and get them moved.  All that changed when the process of Designating, Locating, and Data Management (the beginnings of SUE) was used on the first Virginia DOT project under contract with So-Deep on Military Highway in Virginia Beach, starting in 1984.” 

“Designating was performed just prior to the 90% plans, and test holes followed immediately after the Field Inspection, which identified potential utility conflicts and needs for relocation/adjustments. So-Deep realized this process was too late to remediate utility delays on projects and convinced J.C. Carr, VDOT’s State Utility Engineer, to look at modifying procedures.”  

“J.C. Carr was subsequently hired by So-Deep in 1985 after a cooperative successful effort to modify the UFI procedures by moving the Designating phase to around 30% design and Locating to 60% design to allow the utilities more time to produce relocation drawings.  Although the process was still called Utility Field Inspection, every activity was advanced in time to earlier in the project, and utility owners and VDOT designers had earlier access to more complete and reliable utility data.” 

Jim Anspach’s history of UC will be continued next week. 

I know lots of you reading this Post have stories of your own. It would be greatly appreciated if you would share your story in the comments section or email it to me to post at cpscott532@aol.com.


Post-44 – Utility Coordination (Part 2)

[This is the second LinkedIn Post on the History of Utility Coordination as provided by SUE firms for State DOTs and other owners of highway projects]

Jim Anspach’s history of UC and SUE continues:  

“Shortly after VDOT’s Chief Utilities Engineer, J.C. Carr, joined So-Deep in 1985, the various aspects of Utility Field Inspections were awarded in a statewide contract to So-Deep, thus allowing busy VDOT personnel to shed some of their workload on select projects.”  

“So-Deep promptly hired Lou Ostendorff, PE, (see picture) to learn the various detailed aspects of VDOT’s Utility Field Inspection (UFI) process from J.C. Carr, with Jim Anspach heading up the new contract team.  So, from early on, the Designating, Locating, and Data Management services influenced and became part of the Utility Field Inspection (Utility Coordination) process – eventually leading to bundling these services into a new field of engineering practice called Subsurface Utility Engineering.”

“Subsequently, the Virginia DOT entered into a statewide contract with So-Deep to perform utility coordination services on projects when the workload exceeded VDOT’s capabilities to perform it in-house and J.C. Carr began an intensive training program on utility coordination for So-Deep staff.  One of the first enhancements was the concept of a utility conflict matrix to document the need for test holes at specific locations. Also quickly added to the services were utility relocation design, easement procurements, existing utility condition assessments, and proactive solutions for the utility owners’ approvals rather than having those utility owners do all the coordination work themselves. These services were made possible by FHWA approving VDOT’s concept to use state money to perform some of these services.” 

“The Maryland State Highway Administration (MDSHA) followed suit in 1987 with a statewide So-Deep contract for preparing preliminary utility cost estimates for projects after utility issues frequently “burned” the MDSHA budget. This contract idea was an effort led by Joe Bissett and Bernie Levinof the MDSHA. So-Deep would investigate and document utilities from records and visual inspection and “spot” designating to get a good idea of utility involvement and then use accommodation rules to provide possible utility relocation or highway relocation alternatives with costs.” 

“Lou Ostendorff headed So-Deep’s professional staff to cover these types of services.  SUE (not yet so named) services now included utility designating, locating, mapping, coordination, proactive utility solutions, concurrent easement negotiations for both ROW and Utilities, condition assessments, and more before the 1990s even began. DelDOT followed suit with issuing a utility coordination contract to So-Deep in 1990.”

Jim Anspach’s history of UC will be continued next week. 

I know lots of you reading this Post have stories of your own. It would be greatly appreciated if you would share your story in the comments section or email it to me to post at cpscott532@aol.com.


Post-45 – Utility Coordination (Part 3)

[This is the third LinkedIn Post on the early History of Utility Coordination, as provided by SUE firms for State DOTs and other owners of highway projects. Jim Anspach finishes up his history in this post]

I asked Jim a question: Is Utility Coordination an integral part of SUE, or is SUE an integral part of Utility Coordination? His response is as follows:

“By the mid-1990s, the answer to this question was another question. Does it matter?  After 30+ years of practice, I think the answer is trending towards “no.” They both enhance each other. Because So-Deep’s idea and practice of SUE was all encompassing, ASCE defined SUE in 1998 as a practice of engineering that manages the risks associated with subsurface utilities via: utility mapping at appropriate quality levels, utility coordination, utility relocation design and coordination, utility condition assessment, communication of utility data to concerned parties, utility relocation cost estimates, implementation of utility accommodation policies, and utility design.” 

Perhaps a fairly complete example of this concept was demonstrated in the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project (WWB), reconstruction of which commenced in the mid-1990s. The WWB used all the elements of SUE as defined above and was the subject of a session at the 2003 National Highway Utility Conference. There were 20 or more utility owners, 3 railroads, 20 permit agencies, and involved 270,00 feet of underground and 2,650,000 feet of overhead utilities with wetlands, geotechnical ground improvements, stream crossings, condition assessments of large sewer outfalls, resulting in $35,000,000 of utility relocations and adjustments (on the Virginia side). Estimates were that the investigative portion of SUE saved $35,000,000 in unnecessary relocation costs, a stunning ROI that was really made possible by following the process of early utility investigation at an attempt to achieve QLB and incorporating that data seamlessly into project design for avoidance and minimization of adjustments.”

“By the early 2000s, these successes were becoming noticed by an increasing number of State DOTs, FHWA, and design consultants and there was the realization that consultants could indeed step in the shoes of both the project owner and the utility owner in all aspects other than legal agreements’ signatures.”

This is how it started. Thanks to Jim Anspach for sharing. Beginning next week, we will take a look at how some of the other SUE firms got into the Utility Coordination business.


Post-46 – Utility Coordination (Part 4)

In the previous three LinkedIn Posts, Jim Anspach provided a history of Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) firms coordinating utilities for State Departments of Transportation (DOTs). This service came to be called Utility Coordination (UC). 

The next few LinkedIn Posts will include some thoughts from practitioners that were involved in Utility Coordination in the late 1990s and early 2000s.


“Geotrack conducted utility coordination services across the country, as well as providing other new services related to SUE, such as civil and structural engineering inspections and GIS mapping of utilities for large scale facilities like airports, water reclamation facilities, and industrial facilities. We also designed evolved utility data management services by providing SUE data to customers using regional data bases (before the age of the Internet).”  

[Jonathan Tan was the Owner and CEO of Geotrack, which was a highly-respected SUE firm in the early 1990s. After the Geotrack days ended in 2012, Jonathan Tan went on to become a consultant to many companies on real time analytics, GIS, CPO, and C-Level Technical digital product management.]


“I left the Florida DOT in October 1994 after 12 years.  The reason I resigned and joined TBE was I saw that SUE was a future growth for plan development and Nick Zembillas offered me an opportunity to come to TBE. When I first started, I managed 30 Utility Coordination projects for the Florida DOT’s District 7. I felt that was great groundwork for learning the proper use of SUE. From the Utility Coordination I started managing SUE projects with the breakthrough being winning the pilot SUE project in 1996 for the Indiana DOT on US41 in Maryville. Then the FHWA’s pilot SUE project in Wyoming in the downtown streets of Cheyenne.  Both projects were successful and met the client’s scope/budget, primarily due to having four constant team members: Nick Zembillas, Bob Clemens, Vince Reger, and Rick Torrens.”

[Bob Clemens is now Semi-Retired after managing UC and SUE projects for more than 40 years for the Florida DOT, TBE Group, and KCI Technologies.]

Send your Utility Coordination story to me in the Comments or by email at cpscott532@aol.com.

More stories about Utility Coordination from long-time practitioners next week.


Post-47 – Utility Coordination (Part 5)

In the previous three LinkedIn Posts, Jim Anspach provided an excellent introduction to the SUE Utility Coordination service. The next few LinkedIn Posts will include some thoughts from practitioners that were involved in this service in the late 1990’s and early 2000s. Last week we heard from Jonathan Tan (Geotrack, Inc.) and Bob Clemens (Florida DOT, TBE Group, and KCI Technologies). This week we will hear from a true SUE pioneer that has promoted SUE in many ways over the past 50 years.

AL FIELD, CEO, Al Field & Associates

“Back in the 60s I was a draftsman for a local utility. When I got caught up with drawing, I was allowed to take a locater to the field, I have no idea what brand it was but it consisted of two boxes snapped together, one with a transmitter you attached to the utility ground or pipe and the other half used as a “wand” to find the utility. Using this I was able to map my area more accurately than the drawings submitted by the installation crews which sometimes looked like they had been drawn with a carpenter’s pencil.” 

“Building on that experience, I was promoted to the Design department and was allowed to attend a conference in St. Louis. Someone, probably Paul Scott, presented SUE among other things like breakaway utility poles. I was so impressed by the SUE presentation that I carried a stack of material back to Phoenix hoping to persuade my leaders that SUE was the way to go. For all I know the material ended up in a trash can. Nothing was done.” 

“Several years later following early retirement and being employed as a consultant by the Arizona DOT as a Utility Coordinator, I was able to utilize SUE during the design and construction of the majority of freeways constructed in the Valley of the Sun, an experience I still treasure today! “ 

“Following that experience I started my own company and was able to join APWA and get involved with their Utility & Public Rights-of-Way (UPROW) committee. This allowed me to attend most of the APWA conferences and the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) conferences where I continued to learn about SUE.” 

Al doesn’t mention that in about 2005 he asked Jim Anspach and Paul Scott to update Jim Thorne’s 1997 SUE Manual entitled, “Subsurface Utility Engineering: Applications in Public Works,” which they did and it was distributed widely to APWA members. Again, in about 2015, Al asked Jim and Paul to update it again, they did, and it was subsequently published by ASCE and entitled, “Subsurface Utility Engineering for Municipalities: Prequalification Criteria and Scope of Work Guide.” These documents instigated by Al Field contributed significantly to the growth of SUE. 

More unsung SUE heroes will be featured next week.


Post-48 – Utility Coordination (Part 6)

For the past five weeks we have been looking at the Utility Coordination aspects of Subsurface Utility Engineering. Today we will continue doing that and will hear from Mike Woods, T2 Utility Engineers’ vice-president for the northern states. Mike has been involved in both Utility Coordination and SUE since the late 1990s and always has some good things to say about his chosen profession. 


“Coming from the Virginia DOT, I was well aware of the important link between Subsurface Utility Engineering and Utility Coordination. I have continued to use that mindset when speaking with clients about managing utility risk. Matching the utility risk of a project with the SUE scope should be done through the eyes of Utility Coordination. Sometimes lost in our industry is our role as consultant to our clients. Good Utility Coordination early in the process can lead to a reduction in the scope of SUE, due to identifying the existing utility infrastructure on the overall design.  Over-scoping a SUE investigation often leaves a client with the feeling that SUE is too expensive. UC plays an important role in proper SUE scoping. While sometimes we may be forced into a scope due to RFP requirements, it is incumbent on Subsurface Utility Engineering providers to act as the first line of Utility Coordination for our clients. With the emergence of 3D modeling and other advances in design platforms, it is even more incumbent on SUE providers to scope projects to be cost effective.  The use of 3D utility models like the one shown in the picture should be carefully considered to match the cost benefit analysis with the utility risk to the project.”

Next week we will hear from another SUE/UC professional. 

Please make a comment and let us know your thoughts on UC and/or SUE!


Post-49 – Utility Coordination (Part 7)

For the past six weeks we have been looking at the Utility Coordination aspects of Subsurface Utility Engineering. Today we will continue doing that and will hear more from Al Field (CEO of Al Fields & Associates). Al has been involved in Utility Coordination and Subsurface Utility Engineering for more than 40 years on behalf of the Arizona Public Service Company, Arizona Department of Transportation, Valley Metro Light Rail, TBE Group, Sky Train people mover at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and now as a company owner. Today he has some good things to say about the value of belonging to and participating in the activities of Professional Associations. 


“Being a member of an Association has many benefits. I have belonged to one or more associations for almost 50 years, for as long as I have worked on governmental projects. I have worked for and retired from a utility company as well as served as a Utility Coordinator for several governmental agencies. Probably the most valuable association membership benefitting me during this time has been the American Public Works Association (APWA). Public works generally includes the operation and maintenance of pipelines, streets, and highways. Projects for the design and construction of these pipelines, streets, and highways are generally offered via contracts to civil engineering and contractor companies. Designing and constructing these projects generally affects utility facilities in some manner. So, it seems like a logical step to belong to an association with members of governmental agencies. The same is felt by engineers and contractors. Attending the association meetings offers fantastic opportunities to meet the people who are offering the projects, to develop relationships, and to hear their perspectives regarding the projects. Additionally, the meetings offer opportunities for speakers to present their perspectives about how to make projects run smoother, showcase new products, offer safety advice, and learn the details and schedules about upcoming projects. Attendance also reinforces the fact that you and your company are still available to serve. In addition to APWA, I belong to or have belonged to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE, including several of their Institutes), American Society of Highway Engineers (ASHE), American Council of Civil Engineers (ACEC), Common Ground Alliance (CGA / 8-1-1), International Rights of Way Association (IRWA), National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA), and several others. Belonging to these associations provides opportunities to deepen relationships that may assist in securing work and assist in fine-tuning the needs of various companies/agencies you may work with. I recommend belonging to any association that fits your job description. It will increase your value to your company, make you some new friends, and give you opportunities to serve your community!”


Post-50 – Training (Part 1)

This week we are going to get back to the early History of Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE). There are some important things that occurred in the 1990s that we haven’t talked about yet. Training is one of those things.

Many of the firms providing SUE services, maybe all, began providing training for their SUE technicians almost immediately after beginning to offer the service. Some such training was, and continues to be, very intensive and has resulted in better results for the clients. 

Surprisingly, the Federal Highway Administration’s National Highway Institute (NHI) has never provided a course on Subsurface Utility Engineering for the State departments of transportation (DOTs). NHI has, however, provided an excellent training course for Utilities since early 1994, and this course has always devoted a little bit of space to SUE.    

But I’m getting ahead of the story. The NHI training course on Utilities was developed in 1994 as a result of the FHWA’s Highway/Utility Guide (see picture), which is what I want to talk about today and next week too.

In June 1993 the FHWA published the Highway/Utility Guide (Publication No. FHWA-SA-93-049). This publication provided comprehensive, state-of-the-knowledge guidance on highway/utility issues. The FHWA’s Office of Technology Applications (HTA) sponsored the Highway/Utility Guide and set aside the funds (about $200,000) to pay for it. They then awarded a contract to the American Public Works Association (APWA) to perform the research and prepare the report. The APWA subcontracted some of the work to the University of Alabama (UA) Department of Civil Engineering. 

Principal researchers and authors for the Highway/Utility Guide were Jim Thome (APWA), Dr. Dan Turner (UA), and Dr. Jay Lindly (UA). Janet Coleman was the FHWA Contract Manager and Paul Scott was the FHWA Office of Engineering Contact.

The Highway/Utility Guide was dedicated to the memory of Mr. James A Carney, Chief of the FHWA Office of Engineering’s Utilities, Railroads, and Special Projects Branch. Mr. Carney recognized a need, envisioned this publication, and contributed generously of his time and technical expertise towards its completion. 

For many years there had been a need to assemble, under one cover, state-of-the-knowledge guidance on the better practices being employed to address the full array of issues that can arise from highway and utility facilities sharing common highway right-of-way. The Highway/Utility Guide was such a document. It provided useful information relevant to joint use issues, a historical perspective, good current practices, and much more, including a little bit about Subsurface Utility engineering.

A standard distribution of the Highway/Utility Guide was made to FHWA headquarters, regional, division, and Federal lands offices; to State and local highway agencies; to technology transfer centers; and to various utility committees.

What did the Highway/Utility Guide have to say about Subsurface Utility Engineering? Next week we’ll find out.


Post-51 – Training (Part 2)

It’s 1994. SUE is 12 years old. FHWA has been promoting SUE for 3 years. 

The just published Highway/Utility Guide says this about SUE:

“Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) is a relatively new discipline that provides accurate information on the location of underground utility facilities. Typically, it is used during the early development of a highway project so that cost-effective design decisions can be made. Savings can be substantial, and it is fast becoming good practice during the preliminary engineering phase of projects where utility conflicts are likely to occur.” 

“SUE has three major components: 

(1) Designating — utilizing surface techniques, including electromagnetics and sonics, the existence and approximate horizontal location of underground utility facilities is determined; 

(2) Locating — test holes are dug using vacuum excavation or comparable non-destructive equipment at critical points along a subsurface utility’s path, exposing underground utility lines and allowing precise measurements of the depth and horizontal position to be made; and 

(3) Data Management – surveying designating/locating information and entering it into state-of-the-art data management systems. Utilizing this information, a design engineer can examine the feasibility of project options and plan ahead to eliminate conflicts. The final result will be a set of plans containing accurate locations of underground utilities.” 

“The Virginia DOT has been using SUE since 1984. They have found that adjustments to utility facilities can be eliminated or decreased by making minor adjustments to the design elements of a highway facility, thus significantly reducing the cost of utility relocations on a project. These minor adjustments typically involve storm sewer or drainage facilities.” 

“On a major highway project in Richmond, VDOT avoided almost 80 percent of the utility relocations that would have been required had the SUE information not been available, and in doing so realized a savings of almost $7 for every $1 spent on SUE.” Statewide, SUE has helped the Virginia DOT reduce the time needed to design highways from 5 years to 4 years, a 20 percent reduction in time.” 

“The FHWA hopes at least 50 percent of the States will be using SUE routinely by 1998. They believe the routine use of SUE in all States will result in nationwide savings of $100 million per year.”

The Highway/Utility Guide pretty much got it right all those years ago. But what does this have to do with training? We’ll get to that next week.


Post-52 – Training (Part 3)

Early in 1994, shortly after the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Engineering’s Utilities, Railroads, and Special Projects Branch had distributed the “Highway/Utility Guide,” it came to my attention that the FHWA’s National Highway Institute (NHI) was planning to develop a two-day training course based upon it and had entered into a contract with the University of Alabama (UA) for development and teaching of such a course. Dr. Dan Turner (pictured left, Head of UA’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department) and Dr. Jay Lindly (pictured right, UA Civil Engineering Professor in the UA Department) were assigned to the contract. I didn’t know how this all came about, but I was designated to be UA’s Office of Engineering contact.

Drs. Turner and Lindly set out to develop the course. The “Highway/Utility Guide” was the basic resource. It contained lots of information about accommodating utilities on highway right-of-way. Dan and Jay began by identifying the primary information they wanted to present and prioritizing it in some manner. They did this in part by interviewing subject matter experts from highway and utility organizations. The goal was to develop basic information that should be known by every State DOT utilities manager. I asked them to be sure that Subsurface Utility Engineering was included. 

Once they had this blocked out, they began developing slides to illustrate the major points.  They were well aware from their experience teaching university civil engineering courses that good instructors do NOT read the slides but rather discuss the intent of the points made on the slides. I don’t believe they even had a script because they had a massive amount of information stored in their minds that they could draw from. Hence, every presentation was not the same.

Once finished, they tested the course with a pilot presentation at the North Carolina DOT. It went very well. I remember that as soon as the course was finished, Jay started packing up their suitcase of slides and other equipment and Dan asked me to drive him to the airport to catch a plane. As we started out, he told me we were just barely going to get there. Minutes later we approached a golf course and Dan told me he needed to make a stop there. He had apparently played golf there the day before the course began and had forgotten to get a scorecard for his collection. He went in, got a scorecard, and we raced to the airport. He was out of the car when we reached the gate, almost before it stopped with his suitcase and golf clubs and he hurried inside. Fortunately, there was no security at the airports in 1994, so Dan raced straight to the gate and made his plane with seconds to spare. 

Dan taught me a two good lessons — keep your priorities in order and don’t sweat the small stuff.