Post-18 – They Didn’t Think Subsurface Utility Engineering Would Work

I hope your holidays were nice and you are already working to make 2023 the best year ever. I had a nice holiday break and am ready to move on with the history of SU E.

When I left a few weeks ago, we were in the early 1990s in SUE’s history. SUE, as you know, started in 1981 with Garon Stutzman and Jim Anspach leading the way.

By the last decade of the 20th Century:

(a) So-Deep had set the bar for all competitors by providing designating, locating, data management, and surveying services; by carrying liability insurance; and by professionally signing and sealing all deliverables. Soon they would add utility quality levels, CADD, and utility coordination to their SUE inventory).

(b) So-Deep, Geotrack, SoftDig, Accurate, TBE Group, and half a dozen or so other companies were providing SUE services in one or more states.

(c) Several hundred people were involved in providing SUE to the Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware Departments of Transportation (DOTs), and a few other State and local DOTs.

(d) Great success was evident based upon several individual case studies of SUE projects.

But the naysayers were rampant, not only in 1992, but throughout the remainder of the 1990s and beyond. We in the FHWA HQ office with the responsibility for promoting SUE were concerned that many stakeholders (state and local DOTs, other federal agencies, and even some of our own FHWA offices were not sold on SUE. Jerry Poston and I and/or State DOTs and SUE providers had made all of them aware of SUE, but they just were not convinced.

So, we decided to intensify our efforts, beginning with our traditional partners, the State DOTs. You may already know that the FHWA collects Federal gas taxes in the Highway Trust Fund and using an extremely complicated legislated formula makes them available to the State DOTs, who then choose their own highway projects, ask the FHWA to set aside funds for them, build the projects using their own funds, and ask the FHWA to reimburse them at a pre-determined pro rata amount.

Unknown to most, FHWA Division Administrators and/or State DOT Commissioners, at least in the 1990s, had determined that no Federal funds would be used for utilities. Thus, State DOTs, the project owners, had to pay for SUE when used on their projects. This is the reason that even though FHWA had ruled that SUE was eligible for Federal reimbursement, the State DOTs would not be requesting reimbursement for it even when used on Federally funded projects.

Despite this unexpected roadblock and others, we expected would come, we pushed forward and decided to turn from individual efforts to promote SUE to combined “FHWA–State DOT-Provider” efforts involving visits to non-participating State DOTs in an effort to convince them to at least try SUE.

More about that next week.

Subsurface Utility Engineers Excavation