HISTORY OF SUBSURFACE UTILITY ENGINEERING Post-55 – Looking Back (1990–1994, Part 1)

Before moving on to the 2000s, let’s continue looking back to some more of the early history of Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE).  For the last two weeks we have looked at the SUE history from 1981 thru 1989.  This week we will look at the 1990-1994 years. 

SUE History from1990 thru 1994, Part 1 

(1) Bob Stevens, a former nuclear officer for the U.S. Navy, and Garon Stutzman, So-Deep’s owner and CEO, kicked off the 1990s with a major accomplishment – Utility Quality Levels. They were discussing nuclear safety concepts and recognized parallels with utility issues. Four utility quality levels were subsequently developed and defined — Quality Level D (utility records research), Quality Level C (visible surface features), Quality Level B (geophysical methods), and Quality Level A (exposed subsurface utilities). 

(2) The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) began promoting Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) in 1991, shortly after Jim Overton and Jerry Poston recognized its nationwide value.  With Paul Scott spearheading the promotional efforts, the FHWA aggressively promoted SUE throughout the 1990s by: (a) sending memos to field offices stressing the benefits of SUE and encouraging Division Administrators and their staff engineers to promote SUE with State DOT counterparts, which they did; (b) developing and distributing various forms of literature to FHWA and State DOT offices (papers, flyers, brochures, handbooks, etc.); (c) preparing numerous papers for conferences and publications; (d) making numerous presentations at workshops, conferences, meetings, etc.; (e) obtaining funds for many SUE-related activities, including development and distribution of research reports and videotapes; (f) conducting workshops at approximately 20 State departments of transportation; and (g) facilitating projects to demonstrate the value of SUE in Oregon, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico.

(3) Another highlight of the 1990-1994 time period, for me at least, was the emergence of a new SUE provider — Tampa Bay Engineering (TBE). Nick Zembillas introduced the Florida DOT to SUE in 1991. Soon thereafter, he left FDOT, bought a vac truck, and joined the Tampa Bay Engineering company where he started a SUE division. After providing SUE in Florida for a few years, Nick and TBE virtually exploded upon the national scene in 1993. He was everywhere, visiting other states, attending and helping fund conferences, doing all the things So-Deep had been doing for many years. Both Nick and Jim Anspach told me recently that they promoted SUE in every state in the United States during the 1990s.

Bob Clemens sent me this week’s picture. He is the big guy in the middle of the picture. Very few people have done as much as Bob over the years to advance the SUE profession. I like this picture because it depicts some young men that saw the value of SUE and wanted to become a part of it. 

More from the 1990-1994 era next week. 

HISTORY OF SUBSURFACE UTILITY ENGINEERING Post-56 – Looking Back (1990–1994, Part 2)

We’re continuing to look back before moving on to the 2000s. For the last three weeks we have looked at the SUE history from 1981 thru 1994. We didn’t quite finish 1990-1994 last week so we’ll continue with it this week.

SUE History from1990 thru 1994, Part 2

(1) Professionals touting SUE in the early 1900s included Jim Anspach (So-Deep, Inc.), Nick Zembillas (TBE Group, Inc.), Bob Milliken (Underground Services, Inc.), Jonathan Tan and John Krause (Geotrack, Inc.), John Midyette (InfraMap), and probably some others I wasn’t aware of at the time. These SUE professionals visited many State DOTs in all parts of the country; prepared numerous papers for conferences; prepared numerous articles for industry publications; provided numerous presentations, demonstrations, and exhibits at workshops, conferences, meetings, etcetera; developed generic videotapes and provided them to FHWA for distribution; conducted numerous workshops for State DOTs; and provided SUE services to many DOTs.  

(2) About 1993 or so, So-Deep developed a nationwide “Governors Program,” where it hired lobbyists in 35 states to get a meeting with the Governor and State Secretary of Transportation to lobby for SUE.  This resulted in trial projects in Florida, Arizona, West Virginia, Rhode Island, New York, and several other states.

(3) In 1994, Paul Scott and Jim Anspach visited the University of Alabama to discuss the concepts of SUE with Dr. Dan Turner, who headed the Department of Civil Engineering, was very active in national highway/utility activities, and would be elected the National President of the American Society of Civil Engineers.  Dr. Turner suggested that the Utility Quality Level concepts might be a way to mitigate recent court decisions holding engineers responsible for utility information (or the lack of it) on plans despite their typical disclaimers that utilities were the problem of the Contractor at time of construction.  This led Jim Anspach to develop a proposal to ASCE for a standard guideline. This proposal was accepted and a standards committee began work in 1996.

(4) The FHWA collected data from state DOTs that suggested significant savings through the use of SUE. As a result, in 1994 they issued a request for proposals to develop a SUE videotape. So-Deep was awarded this contract and developed the video “Subsurface Utility Engineering: A Proven Solution.” 

Next week we will look at SUE in the final years of the decade (1995-1999).


Last week’s picture of Gary Frazho received twice as many “likes” as usual and four times as many comments. Over the years Gary learned how to use all the designating and locating equipment that came along and learned it so well he has probably trained thousands of young technicians how to use it. That was a major differentiator for the company he was working for and for the industry as a whole.

Today we will finish my summary of major SUE events in the 1980s and 1990s and move on next week to the 2000s. 

SUE History from1995 thru 1999 

(1) In 1997, the American Public Works Association (APWA) published Subsurface Utility Engineering: Applications in Public Works. The purpose of this publication was to increase the awareness and use of SUE as a practice that can improve designs, reduce time and costs, and improve safety for public works projects that involve underground utility locations. 

(2) In 1998 the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Highway Subcommittee on Right-of-Way brought Utilities into their subcommittee as equal partners. This effort was championed by two Directors of Right-of-Way – Stuart Waymack of the Virginia DOT and Bill Pickering of the Pennsylvania DOT and was endorsed by the FHWA. 

(3) In 1998, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) authorized a study of damage prevention practices. The USDOT’s Research and Special Programs Administration established the Common Ground Study. A Steering Team and Linking Team were populated to oversee nine task teams. SUE was included in the Planning and Design team. In July 1999, the Common Ground Study was presented to the Secretary of Transportation. It identified and validated over 130 “best practices” to enhance safety and prevent damage to underground facilities. Subsurface Utility Engineering was one of the best practices.   

Well, this will do it for my history of SUE from its beginning in 1981 to the end of the 1990s. I hope you understand that the history I have presented the past five weeks is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more that if it were known, a book would not hold all of it. I would therefore like to dedicate my remembrances of the history of SUE to the many unknown heroes from SUE firms, FHWA division, region, and HQ offices, State and local DOT utilities offices, private sector design and construction firms, and any other sources I never knew about. There were many leaders and many, many more followers that “got it” and worked hard at their jobs to create the SUE industry that exists today.

The 2000s were maybe “just the beginning.” We’ll see, starting next week.  

HISTORY OF SUBSURFACE UTILITY ENGINEERING Post-58 – On to the 2000s – The Purdue Study

During the final years of the 20th Century, it had become apparent to the FHWA, the SUE providers, and other proponents that there was a great need to quantify the value of SUE. Hence, the FHWA commissioned Professor Jeff Lew of the Purdue University Department of Building Construction Management to determine the value of SUE on highway projects. 

Purdue University’s “Cost Savings on Highway Projects Utilizing Subsurface Utility Engineering” was published and distributed in January 2000. A total of 71 projects from Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, and Ohio were studied. These projects involved a mix of interstate, arterial, and collector roads in urban, suburban, and rural settings. 

Two broad categories of savings emerged: quantifiable savings and qualitative savings. A total of $4.62 in avoided costs for every $1.00 spent on SUE was quantified. The greatest savings came from avoiding utility relocations and reduced delay claims. Qualitative savings (e.g., reducing lost time, lost business, etc.) were non-measurable, but it was clear to the researchers that those savings were also significant. 

It was concluded that SUE was a viable technologic practice that reduced project costs related to the risks associated with existing subsurface utilities and should be used in a systemic manner.

The Purdue Study was the first major SUE accomplishment in 2000. It has been referenced extensively over the years as a major reason for using SUE on highway projects where underground utilities are likely to be encountered. 


During the final years of the 20th Century, it had become apparent to the FHWA, SUE providers, and other proponents that there was a great need to establish standard guidelines for its use. Hence, early in 2003, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) published ASCE 38-02, Standard Guideline for the Collection and Depiction of Existing Subsurface Utility Data. The FHWA purchased 500 copies of the new standard guideline and distributed copies to all State DOTs, and to some local DOTS, SUE providers, and other stakeholders.

Jim Anspach chaired the ASCE committee that developed this standard and was the prime force behind the ideas and concepts included in it. It was a consensus standard guideline for defining the quality of utility location and attribute information that is placed on plans. It addressed such issues as (a) how to obtain subsurface utility information, (b) what technologies are available to obtain that information, and (c) how to convey that information to users. It presented a system of classifying the quality of data associated with existing subsurface utilities, thus allowing project owners, engineers, constructors, and utility owners to develop strategies to reduce risk by improving the reliability of information on existing subsurface utilities in a defined manner.

Those on the standards committee involved in the development of ASCE 38-02 included Jim Anspach (Chair), Paul Scott (Vice Chair), Dr. Tom Iseley, Capt. Jim Allen, Wayne Brooks, Dr. C.C. Chang, Kevin S. Nichols, Jim Noone, Kathe Sopenski, Bob Stevens, Dr. Alan Witten, and Nick Zembillas. These individuals had varied backgrounds, including professional experience in subsurface utility engineering, geology, geophysics, surveying, computer-aided design and drafting, and geographic information systems; highway design; right-of-way; geotechnical engineering; and utility design. It also included professionals representing research organizations, the construction industry, education, the military, government regulatory agencies, and the utility owner community. 

ASCE 38-02 was dedicated to two persons that were not physically on the standards committee, but their spirit was essential to its formation: Garon Stutzman, Chairman Emeritus, So-Deep, Inc., the “founder” of the SUE profession, and Jerry Poston (deceased), Federal Highway Administration, whose unflagging support for the profession resulted in a groundswell of acceptance by the highway design and construction communities.

ASCE 38-02 was well received over the next 20 years, and was updated in 2022 by ASCE 38-22, Standard Guideline for Investigating and Documenting Existing Utilities. More about the new document, and a companion document, ASCE 75-22, Standard Guideline for Recording and Exchanging Utility Infrastructure Data, will be contained in a future LinkedIn Post.

Next Week — SUE Moves to Canada



Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) was pretty well established in the United States by 2000. Not all the State DOTs were using it but all had been made aware of it by Jim Anspach, Nick Zembillas, and Paul Scott.  So, it was no surprise when other countries started using SUE, beginning with Canada. For about the next five weeks we are going to be looking at the history of SUE in Canada, as provided by Lawrence Arcand, P.Eng, P.E., the President of 4Sight Utility Engineers. 

The First true SUE project, following the ASCE 38-02 standard, completed in Canada was in 2002 for the Region of Durham. It involved a road reconstruction of Harmony Road in Oshawa, Ontario. The work was done by a joint venture created by Tampa Bay Engineering (TBE) and Totten Sims Hubicki (TSH). Key players for TBE were Nick Zembillas and John Harter, PE. For TSH it was Brian Ruck, P.Eng. and Bruce Miller, P.Eng. 

Based on the success of that project both firms decided to formalize their arrangement and form – TSH/TBE Joint Venture. TBE and TSH made their initial connection during a conference in Florida. TBE was interested in learning more about TSH’s road safety capabilities, and TSH was interested in learning more about this new idea of SUE. It also corresponded with the initial publication of ASCE 38-02 when SUE finally started to formalize as a sub-discipline of Civil Engineering.

In 2003 TSH/TBE JV got its second project in Canada for the Region of Niagara. Lawrence was hired as the first employee of the Joint Venture to run the project. The primary client contact was Kyle Moate and they also worked closely with Greg Epp, the Region’s GIS specialist. The project involved the mapping of non-conductive watermains for the purpose of updating the Region’s GIS database, which at the time was not spatially accurate enough for them to reliably use. As an outcome of the project the GIS was updated with accurate information and metadata was added to indicate the quality level of each section of watermain in their database. Numerous sections were found large distances away from where they had originally been thought to be located, in one instance it was on a different road.  The majority of field work was completed by TBE US crews who came up to work on the project. Jamie Bradburn was soon brought on board to work with Lawrence as a SUE field lead for TSH/TBE JV so that there was field capabilities north of the border.

(Lawrence Arcand’s History of SUE in Canada will be continued next week)



Subsurface Utility Engineering in the early 2000s was a completely foreign concept in Canada and a lot of effort went into educating potential users of the service. There were numerous lunch and learn presentations to educate consultants, municipalities and other government agencies about the merits of SUE. I remember one consultant actually saying, “it will be a cold day in hell before MTO (Ministry of Transportation Ontario) will use SUE.” It would not be long before that person would eat his words. It was about this time that Paul Scott made his first visit to Canada to speak at a TSH/TBE workshop on SUE. He presented on the history of SUE and the findings from the Purdue Study which investigated the Return on Investment of implementing SUE on a project.

The first job completed for the MTO was done at the Homer Watson Boulevard Interchange with the 401 around Cambridge Ontario. The project involved a new road bridge construction, new ramps, and a new pedestrian bridge to service the nearby Conestoga College. The MTO wanted to use the project as a SUE pilot. They put TSH/TBE in contact with the prime consultant, Dillon Engineering, who was working on the project. It was very successful and identified a number of utilities in question on the project. One questionable utility was a watermain crossing through the area of the proposed new ramps. Another key finding was a fibre optics cable designated crossing the highway in the precise alignment of the proposed Pedestrian Bridge. Thankfully because of the SUE data they were able to shift the bridge and avoid any conflict with the fibre optics cable.

The first SUE Standing Offer (On-Call Contract) was initiated by the Town on Richmond Hill. The key person at the Town was John Thompson, a project manager who became convinced of the merits of SUE based on the success of a pilot project completed for the Town. I was the Project Manager for the first Standing Offer contract which completed numerous road, water and sewer projects for the Town. The format of that standing offer contract became the seed document for numerous other municipalities like Hamilton, Toronto, Barrie, Vaughan, York Region, Niagara Region, Mississauga, and others that followed suit over the last 10-15 years.

(Lawrence Arcand’s History of SUE in Canada will be continued next week)



Post-22 – Presentations in Texas & Louisiana

The FHWA SUE Promotion Team wound up its tour of State DOTs with stops in Texas and Louisiana. We arrived at the TxDOT headquarters in Dallas on Monday morning. Getting tired I guess; we had combined the morning and afternoon sessions into just one. We made our usual presentations and visited some with the attendees. After lunch we headed on to Baton Rouge for our last presentation on Tuesday morning at the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (Louisiana DOTD).

We were well received at both places. The Texas attendees already knew about SUE and were very enthusiastic about it. The Louisiana attendees were not as familiar with SUE but were very attentive and interested. 
It was nice to meet DOT people I had talked to on the telephone but had never met before. There were three in particular that would make SUE happen in Texas — John Campbell (State Utilities Engineer); Randy Anderson (John’s top assistant); and John Breed (State Toll Operations Utilities Engineer). Ditto for two individuals in Louisiana who ran the utilities program, which didn’t really have a home but was being handled out of the right-of-way office – Billy Moore (Consultant) and Jim Dousay (a former LSU football standout). Also possibly in the rooms were Jesse Cooper at TxDOT who replaced John Campbell when John was promoted to Director of the Right-of-Way Division, and Trey Jesclard at LDOTD, both of whom would help push SUE to great heights in their states.

My favorite story from the trips to region 6 took place in Louisiana. Jim Anspach was presenting, and we noticed an older gentleman in the room who was sleeping soundly. As Jim was winding up his presentation, the sleeper woke up, raised his hand, and said, “We won’t be using your SUE in Louisiana because we don’t have any utility problems.” With that, bedlam broke out in the room. It seems there were three young construction guys sitting in the back and they began laughing, stomping their feet, and even pounding on the tables. Soon others in the room joined them. It must have been very embarrassing to our sleeper being contradicted in such a manner. Soon thereafter Trey Jesclard became the State Utilities Engineer and Louisiana began using SUE.

We ended our trip in New Orleans. We had a few hours to kills before our flight out that evening, so Jim Anspach drove Joe and me to the French Quarter. He told us he was leaving us there because he had a time share in the French Quarter and was going to spend the rest of the week there. Before leaving us though, he put us in a buggy (similar to the one in the picture), paid the driver, and told us he hoped we would enjoy the ride through “his city.” We did. We flew home that night, Joe to BWI, and me to DCA.  




Post-21 – Presentations in the FHWA Region 6 States

The FHWA SUE Promotion Team took a few months off after making presentations promoting SUE to state DOTs in the FHWA’s Region 5 and then hit the road again, this time going to FHWA’s Region 6. The team consisted of Joe Bissett (State Utilities Engineer, Maryland State Highway Administration), Jim Anspach (So-Deep, Inc.), and Paul Scott (FHWA-HQ). FHWA Region 6 states to we visited were Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas,

We flew to Memphis, Tennessee on a Monday morning, met up, rented a car, and drove across the Mississippi River on Interstate 40 to Little Rock, Arkansas, to prepare for our first presentations the next day at the Arkansas DOT (ArDOT).

On Tuesday morning we addressed upper management personnel at the ArDOT headquarters office. We introduced ourselves and I kicked off the meeting with an overview of the purpose of the meeting, Jim Anspach followed with a description of how SUE worked and how it would benefit the ArDOT to use it, and Joe Bissett explained how SUE had benefited the Maryland SHA. Joe, being the DOT guy, was the star of the show. The ArDOT people really liked him and asked a lot of questions.

After lunch we met for a few hours with the ArDOT utilities and surveying people and people from other offices that interacted with utilities. We essentially followed the morning format, but much more casually, and had lots of individual discussions with those that were most interested in SUE.

On Wednesday morning we headed west on I-40 to Oklahoma to visit ODOT; spent the night in Oklahoma City; and made our presentations. Then on Thursday morning we travelled west again across the Texas panhandle to New Mexico; spent the night in Sante Fe; and then visited the NMDOT on Friday.

We were well received everywhere we went and had some nice visits with all the people we met. For me, it was nice to add some faces to the voices of those I had talked with over the telephone. As best I remember, that would have been Ralph Williams Assistant State Utilities Engineer) in Arkansas, Kurt Harms (Director of Right-of-Way) in Oklahoma, and Lester Cisneros (State Utilities Engineer) in New Mexico. I worked with all of them for many years afterwards on utilities and committee matters, learned a lot from them, and always felt privileged to be in their company.

We drove back to Texas on Saturday morning, talking about SUE and utilities all the way, and spent the weekend in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where our next presentations were scheduled to begin on Monday morning.

We will continue the story next week with our visits to the Texas and Louisiana DOTs. We met some outstanding people and had some interesting experiences that I will share with you.



Post-20 – Presentations in the FHWA Region 5 States

The FHWA SUE Promotion Team was off to promote SUE.  The team consisted of Bernie Levin (Maryland SHA), Jim Anspach (So-Deep, Inc.), Paul Scott (FHWA-HQ), and Clair Hendrickson (FHWA-R5). FHWA Region 5 states to be visited were Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

We flew to Chicago O’Hare on a Monday morning, met up, rented a car, and drove south to Springfield, Illinois, to prepare for our first presentations the next day. Springfield is the capital of the State of Illinois and headquarters for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

On Tuesday morning we walked confidently into the Illinois DOT (IDOT) offices and were directed to a conference room where upper management personnel awaited us. We introduced ourselves and I kicked off the meeting with an overview of the purpose of the meeting. Jim Anspach followed with a description of how SUE worked and how it would benefit the Illinois DOT to use it. Bernie Levin then explained how SUE had benefited the Maryland SHA.  Bernie, by the way, was not a utility person. He was assigned to the construction office and had witnessed many utility conflicts. He was the star of the show, though, as the IDOT people really took to him.

The meeting ended quickly after the Chief Engineer declared that SUE sounded like a good thing, but IDOT would never use it in Illinois unless the utilities paid for it because they were required to provide information about the location of their facilities.

We talked about it over lunch and someone at the table suggested that it was IDOT’s project, and they had more to lose from utility delays than the utilities did. As a side note, almost a year after our meeting, IDOT moved a new engineer, Cheryl Cathey, into the utilities position and she went on for many years representing IDOT exceptionally well within the state and on national highway/utility committees. I always thought she was responsible for IDOT beginning to use SUE on its projects and paying for it.

After lunch we met for a few hours with the IDOT utilities people and people from other offices that interacted with utilities. We essentially followed the morning format, but much more casually, and had lots of individual discussions with those that were most interested in SUE.

We then packed our bags and headed down the road to the next state. And so, it went in the other states. By 1999, maybe somewhat because of our meetings, all the State DOTs in Region 5 were using SUE. Providers working in those states, to name few that I remember, were So-Deep, TBE Group, Geotrack, and a few new local firms. SUE is expanding exponentially.

Next week, the team goes to Region 6.