December 20, 2017

Almost every highway construction project includes the accommodation and relocation of utilities, since utilities are almost always found within or adjacent to the highway right-of-way. From water, sewer and natural gas pipelines to electric systems and communications equipment, most of these—if not all—are a factor in project start-up and, in many cases, project completion.

Utility coordination is an essential element of successful highway construction projects. On many projects, a team of professional engineers and right-of-way experts work to foster the relationship between project engineers, contractors, the local government and utility companies, making sure they are communicating, cooperating and coordinating to make the utility relocation process efficient and effective. As a designer on Gresham Smith’s utility coordination team, I believe that proactively coordinating utilities early in the project has many benefits, a few of which I’ll discuss below.



No Surprises

Surprises are great – on your birthday, for anniversaries and around Christmas. Surprises aren’t great, however, when you break ground on a roadway project. Conducting extensive surveys and site research at the outset of a project limits the unknowns and gets all stakeholders on the same page. When the project engineers, contractors, utility owners and local government know where each utility is located on the site and understand the project plan, it’s easier to avoid unnecessary relocations, re-designs and delays. If a surprise does pop up, however, the utility coordination team is prepared to handle the situation and get the project back on track.

I’ve served as the utility coordinator for numerous transportation projects at Gresham Smith. No matter the scope or size, our team likes to conduct regular on-site utility checks and meetings for the duration of each project to keep all the stakeholders in the loop. By meeting regularly, we’re also able to understand what is important to each of our project partners and make sure we are keeping their goals in mind when making decisions related to utility management and relocation.



Increased Savings

Utility delays are one of the main reasons for increased costs and schedule delays during the construction phase of a project. Proactive utility coordination can save both time and money, two things everyone would like a little more of. By outlining the location of existing utilities, compiling a list of equipment needed for the construction phase and securing proper permits before anyone breaks ground, project teams can avoid unnecessary expenses and schedule stress.

Having site information up front also gives the project team an opportunity to identify and address issues that are known to pop up at the start of construction. When project designers and engineers have a longer lead time to develop a solution, they can develop a thorough, cost-effective plan that will likely keep the project schedule on track.



Public Safety (and Sanity!)

Utilities are located within the highway right of way, meaning they inevitably impact public health and safety. Locating underground gas and electric lines and taking proper precautions to work around or temporarily remove overhead power lines are just a few ways utility coordination teams can avoid unnecessary risks and protect those both on the jobsite and in the surrounding area.

Additionally, utility coordination teams work to limit disruptions to the surrounding community. By following a clearly defined project plan and pre-planning for anticipated hiccups, motorists, property owners and businesses will be less inconvenienced by roadway projects in their community.

Finding practical, cost-effective solutions for the design and construction of highway projects while minimizing the impact to utility networks and the local community is challenging. However, by focusing on utility coordination from the outset of highway projects, we can limit surprises, save both time and money and limit disruption to the surrounding community. Regular communication, combined with clearly defined expectations are key to project success.


This post was authored by Kay Cooper when she was an employee at Gresham Smith.