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.