HISTORY OF SUBSURFACE UTILITY ENGINEERING Post-53 – Looking Back (1981-1984)

Post-53 – Looking Back (1981-1984)

This week’s picture was provided by Jim Anspach and is of SUE work in 1984 on the first State DOT project (see more below). The quality of the picture is not very good, but I wanted to use it anyway because it is probably the only picture in existence of this first DOT SUE project. It also shows some of the equipment being used.

To truly understand what SUE is today, I believe it is important to understand what it was in the beginning. So, having looked at SUE from 1981 thru1999 in 2023 posts, and before moving onto the 2000s in 2024 posts, let’s take a few weeks and look back a little bit to the beginning.

SUE History from1981thru1984 

(1) Garon Stutzman “invented” SUE in 1981 and was the prime force behind the ideas and concepts of it. With the financial backing of a Washington area contractor, W.R. Owens, Garon formed So-Deep, Inc. 

(2) In 1982, the County of Fairfax, Virginia, entered into a contract with So-Deep for test holes. This was the Nation’s first instance of a governmental body entering into a task-order basis contract for locating utilities.

(3) In 1983 Garon Stutzman hired Jim Anspach, a Penn State geophysicist (now considered to be the “Father of SUE”) to provide surface geophysics and lots more. 

(4) About this time, questions arose regarding what to call these services. Jim Anspach and Jeff Oakley, a Penn State physics graduate, developed the terms “designating” and “locating” to differentiate these functions more accurately. The thinking was that a utility is not “located” until it is exposed; and until then, its existence and approximate location are “designated” by interpreting an energy field of some kind.

(5) In late 1983 Garon Stutzman approached the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and proposed designating all of the utilities on a highway project during the design stage so that designers could avoid them on paper when possible. J.C. Carr, the State Utility Engineer for VDOT, saw the potential and allocated $10,000 for a trial project, a massive road reconstruction in Crystal City traversing the Pentagon and Washington National Airport areas. Construction plans were already drawn, with utilities plotted from owner records and supposedly certified as correct by the utility companies. So-Deep designated the utilities during nighttime hours, and a VDOT crew surveyed the designations and plotted them on the plans. There were vast differences. So-Deep then performed approximately 100 test holes to prove their designations were accurate and to further identify the potential conflicts. On the record, VDOT stated to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that over $1 million in savings to the taxpayer were realized. Off the record, the figure was $7 million or more.

Next Week – Looking Back (1985-1989)