Avoiding a Spike in Utility Strikes & Damage Costs on 
Infrastructure Projects

As the U.S. begins spending $1.2 trillion in infrastructure funds, avoiding utility strikes could save more than $40 billion annually.

Avoiding a Spike in Utility Strikes & Damage Costs on 
Infrastructure Projects

As the U.S. begins spending $1.2 trillion in infrastructure funds, avoiding utility strikes could save more than $40 billion annually.

When an excavator hits a utility line, everything stops. 

Work stops, progress stops, and depending on the severity of the strike, neighborhoods and communities can come to a standstill, and lives may be lost.

That is why the One Call system became law in 2002. This move made 811 the national “call before you dig” number so contractors & excavators can obtain the approximate location of buried utilities to avoid the damages, costs, and physical danger caused by striking these subsurface obstructions during construction projects.

The influx of federal dollars already pouring into the nation’s infrastructure will lead to a significant increase in excavation projects, making accurate utility locating more important than ever before. This is especially so when you understand that an institutional ground disturbance plan that requires accurate 811 public locating and private utility locating could save facility stakeholders and municipalities as much as $40 billion annually.

811 Logo (Left) & CGA Dirt Logo (Right)

The Common Ground Alliance issues its annual findings on utility strikes in the DIRT report, which it has published since 2004. The 2021 report can be found here.

According to the 2021 DIRT report, The 811 One Call system in the Unites States fielded 39,565,535 requests to locate public utilities. 

In that same time period, some 192,745 utility strikes were reported in the United States. That amazing statistic demonstrates that the One Call program continues to be a great success. Because the 2021 DIRT report’s data show that the U.S. 811 One Call program is locating and properly marking 99.47% of the public utility locating requests it receives. 

That’s almost as good as GPRS’ own 99.87% accuracy rate. 

However, the .53% of 811 One Call public utility locates that result in a strike account for some $62 billion in additional budget costs in utility strikes for construction, renovation, and infrastructure projects.  

So, as communities and states begin breaking ground on their long-awaited infrastructure renewal projects, billions of dollars could be wasted. Which would decimate the anticipated $1.2 trillion in spending within a few years and could set plan up to fail before it really begins.

According to research conducted for GPRS in 2021 by Finch, the average cost of each one of those 192,745 utility strikes that make up 811’s 0.53% strike rate is approximately $56,000.

Further, a privately commissioned study for the Infrastructure Protection Coalition (IPC), updated in 2022, cites the total “hidden cost” of utility strikes across the U.S. at more than $40 billion.

Which means the construction and safety industries are losing approximately $61 BILLION annually to repair and address public utility strikes. 

Finch also reports an average work-stoppage or down-time of 8-12 weeks per strike. 

192,745 events x 10 weeks average downtime = 1,927,450 lost project hours annually. 

At an estimated crew cost – including labor burden – of $96.00 per hour, work stoppages due to utility strikes account for another $185 million in costs.

Which brings the average total annual construction industry budget loss for public utility strikes to $62 billion.

$62 billion is a lot of money. However, those statistics only cover 811 calls, web referrals, and tickets… They do not cover strikes on private utility lines, which 811 does not locate. 

Public Utilities Markings
Public Utility Markings

Private Utilities Markings
Private Utility Markings

What About Private Utility Line Strikes? 

An estimated 60% of all utility lines in the U.S. are classified as private. So, if 60% of utility lines are private and we extrapolate the 811 strike rate to those lines, it is a conservative estimate that… 

Missing and/or inaccurate utility locates likely account for over $100 billion in financial costs to the construction industry annually. 

As the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act funds begin pouring into state and municipal coffers, it is more important than ever to enact specific processes and protocols to accurately locate, mark, and avoid public and private utility lines when building, renovating, or demolishing infrastructure. 

The simplest solution that facilities and municipalities can take, well before breaking ground, and even before planning and design begin in earnest, is to create an institutional ground disturbance plan that utilizes both 811 One Call services and a private utility locator with a proven track record of accuracy to pinpoint, map, and mark all your electric, telecom, water, sewer, and other utility lines. So you can avoid expensive and dangerous strikes before they occur. 

According to the study conducted for IPC, it is estimated that administering solid private/public locating policies could eliminate some $40 billion of the estimated $62 billion in public utility strike costs, which could in turn improve public safety and lower costs for everyone from the Department of Transportation to individual energy consumers.

While no one can state with certainty where the cost savings would manifest in the construction cycle, $40 billion in annual savings would allow significantly more projects to be built. When you also consider the influx of some $1.2 trillion in federal infrastructure funds becoming available over the next few years, the savings to the federal budget and the taxpayer could also be significant.

To achieve that $40 billion in annual savings, IPC’s report calls for an oversight overhaul: the adoption of and mandatory adherence to reporting with zero exemptions, standardized 811 service ticketing, and stiff penalties for those companies who fail to comply.  

Instead of overhauling a system that is already working with such a high degree of success, adopting and executing a complete ground disturbance plan that includes complete public and private utility locates will provide an immediate reduction in strikes, damages, and cost overruns.  

GPRS has achieved an unprecedented 99.8%+ accuracy rate in utility locating and concrete scanning thanks to embracing Subsurface Investigation Methodologies, or SIM, and requiring all of our Project Managers to become SIM certified. 

SIM protocols require 80 hours of classroom education on the methods and technologies used in non-destructive testing (NDT) for utility locating and concrete scanning, and 320 hours of mentored field experience. That is more than ten times the industry training and education recommendations. 

Which is why every GPRS Project Manager is SIM certified, and why the SIM specifications and white paper have become integral parts of large-scale ground disturbance policies for facility managers and construction safety managers nationwide. 

It is vital to visualize what you cannot see before you break ground. GPRS is here to provide you with 99.8%+ accuracy on every utility locate we do, and our Project Managers can work with you to help create a ground disturbance policy that allows you to spend your infrastructure dollars as efficiently and responsibly as possible. 

Contact us for a quote or utility locate here.