While we were sleeping at FHWA during the 1980s, so to speak, at least relative to Subsurface Utility Engineering, lots of things were going on with SUE. I have tried to capture the major things and the people making them happen, but I have missed some and we will go back and look at them in future posts.

But for now, it’s 1991 in my history of SUE. Jerry Poston (Chief of the Railroads, Utilities, and Programs Branch) and Jim Overton (Deputy Chief) have approached me at my desk, and they told me there was something going on at the Virginia DOT that was supposedly reducing damage to underground utilities on construction projects and that they wanted me to help them look into it.

Jim Overton had handled utility matters at FHWA throughout most of the 1980s and even though he had moved up in the ranks in 1991, he still had a keen interest in utilities. He actually was the author of the Federal Regulations for utilities and for the FHWA Program Guide. The Regulations he prepared in 1988 are still in use, except so far as I know for three minor changes that I made in accordance with the Federal Register process to accommodate FHWA Division Office and/or State DOT requests. I believe the 2003 version of the Program Guide is also still in use. I first published it in 1992 in booklet form, with author Jim Overton’s permission, and distributed it to FHWA Division offices. I later updated it several times, the last being in 2003, and distributed it to FHWA field offices and at some point to State DOTs per their requests.

But back to SUE, Jim Overton was aware that a company in nearby Manassas Park, Virginia, was doing VDOT’s SUE work and Jerry Poston had made arrangements for us to visit them to find out what they were doing. The three of us drove to the So-Deep office and met with So-Deep leaders Bob Humphreys, Bob Stevens, Bucky Methfessel, Mike Fisher, Jack Ferguson, and Jim Anspach. They gave us a comprehensive update (a) on exactly what SUE was (designating, locating, and data management); (b) on how SUE had evolved throughout the 1980s; and (c) on what they envisioned for the future.

We didn’t understand much of what they told us, at least I didn’t, but we understood enough to know, as Jerry told us, that “SUE was going to revolutionize the way utilities were handled on highway projects.” He was so right. But there was lots of work that needed to be done before SUE evolved to that point.

More next week about FHWA’s plan for promoting Subsurface Utility Engineering in the early 1990s and our first efforts to implement our plan.

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