Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE)

Counter to what many think SUE is not simply mapping “Locate” marks. 

Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) refers to a branch of engineering that involves managing certain risks for a project through application of the following:

  • Mapping (collecting and depicting) utilities at appropriate quality levels in accordance with ASCE/CI 38-02
  • Coordination between project owners, project designers and utility operators to resolve conflicts between utilities and projects,
  • Condition assessment of utilities within the project area and
  • Ensure communication of utility data to all concerned parties,
  • Estimate cost to move or relocate utilities,
  • Implementation of utility accommodation policies,
  • And utility design if relocation or movement is required.

Our specialty is reducing project costs through the implementation and coordination of SUE.  We have a track record of providing those services for various civil projects in the Western and Midwest United States.

Consider that the relocation (moving) of a utility to avoid a conflict with proposed structures, earthen works, or other facilities can be quite costly.

In the case of a gas mains and transmission pipelines or hazardous liquids pipelines the moving of that facility requires the utility to comply with several federal regulations.  Costs can escalate rapidly.  In such cases moving of the utility should only be considered as a last option as it is commonly the most costly approach for resolving a utility conflict associated with a civil project.

The application of Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) during the design/pre-bid phase of a project has proven to be an extremely cost effective approach to addressing and resolving utility conflicts, often without requiring a utility to be moved.

Without the application of SUE during the design phase of a project, utility conflicts often result in disagreements between contractors and utility companies during construction.

Far worse is when utility conflicts result in damaged utilities, injury, and/or death.

Generally utility conflicts that only become known during the construction phase of a project, will at a minimum cause time delays, injury or damage, and or litigation.

With the application of SUE, conflicts are resolved during the design/pre-bid phase of a project instead of during construction.

UMS’s Strategic Approach

We collect and depict existing subsurface utilities in accordance with Standard CI/ASCE 38-02, a widely excepted standard for design and construction.

SUE is also a best practice that is being promoted by many organizations including: FHWA, Common Ground Alliance, APWA, Office of Pipeline Safety, and many city and state transportation departments.

UMS approaches SUE in a phased approach.

Our SUE Phase I operations for a project, also referred to as utility designating or the Quality Level (QL) B mapping effort, is generally meant to provide designers a plan view map of existing utilities based on records research, field investigation, and geophysical survey methods.  Data obtained during Phase I efforts are then used to initially identify utility conflicts and develop a utility conflict matrix.

The Phase II investigation primarily consists of 3D mapping of QL B data obtained with specialized geophysical exploratory methods (e.g., Spar 300, ground penetrating radar) and with discrete QL A vacuum excavated test holes of utilities.  Data obtained through Phase II efforts is then added to the utility conflict matrix for use in Conflict Resolution Workshops with utilities and designers.

Phase III is then comprised of a coordinated effort to engineer resolutions to utility conflicts which often result in the development of master and supplemental agreements between designers, project owners, and utility operators.

The oversight during construction to insure that all agreed to utility conflict resolutions are adhered to is Phase IV.

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