How to Save 9% - 40% on Your Next Construction Project

Highway Construction SUE Data Holds Key Lessons for General Contractors & Project Managers

How to Save 9% - 40% on Your Next Construction Project

Highway Construction SUE Data Holds Key Lessons for General Contractors & Project Managers

Want to save 9% - 40% on your next construction, renovation, or expansion project? Highway construction data holds the key to greatly reducing or eliminating utility strikes, project delays, and to lowering costs for project relocation, design, and utility relocation.

The difference? The one thing that could reduce the estimated $30-$50 billion in costs associated with utility-related strikes, reworks, and change orders in the U.S annually?

Accurate underground utility maps.

In fact, a return on investment (ROI) study comparing highway construction jobs that utilized Level A or B SUE (Subsurface Utility Engineering) standards to locate utilities versus non-SUE compliant jobs, found that every $1 spent on accurately mapping utilities and underground infrastructure produced $11.39 in savings.

Graphic: Every $1 spent on Level A or B SUE yields $11.39 in savings on average

That’s a 10-fold decrease in costs.

When you consider that the expense of a full SUE survey comes in at about 1.65% of a project’s budget, it is a no-brainer to make sure your subsurface utilities are properly located and mapped to at least SUE Level B standards.

The continued cost savings of digitizing and aggregating your underground utility maps has not been studied in significant numbers, but a recent case study cited in the Common Ground Alliance’s 2022 DIRT Report showed that the city of Chicago reduced its underground utility strikes by 50% over a five-year period by creating accessible aggregated utility maps in a GIS platform.

Here’s how the cost savings shake out in the recent ROI study comparing SUE and non-SUE highway construction data:

  • 9.08% reduction in project delays
  • 9.59% reduction in redesign costs
  • 29.46% reduction in construction & design costs
  • 40.33% reduction in project relocation costs

So, by utilizing SUE Standard A or B to locate and accurately map subsurface utility and infrastructure data, general contractors, facility managers, stakeholders, and municipalities could slash project costs by 9% - 40%.

What are SUE Surveys & Standards?

As defined by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) “is a process that combines civil engineering, surveying, and geophysics. It utilizes several technologies, including vacuum excavation and geophysics. Its use has become a routine requirement on highway projects in many states.”  

SUE is broken down by “Quality Levels” or degrees of risk regarding how much data is required to adequately plan, design, and build a roadway or other project.

Level D (QL-D)

Requires the most basic information for utility location, derived from existing utility records (as-builts), or verbal recollections. It is highly limited in terms of comprehension and accuracy.

Level C (QL-C)

Is the most commonly used information level and requires surveying visible utility facilities (manholes, valve boxes, hydrants, etc.) and correlating this visual information with existing utility as-builts. Because of the high degree of error (due to utility movements, cross bores, and inaccurate record-keeping), this quality level is recommended for rural projects or those where there are few utilities that might need relocating.

Level B (QL-B)

Requires the application of surface geophysical methods to find and horizontally position all utilities within the limits of the project scope. Level B SUE activities are knowns as “designating,” and the information obtained is surveyed to project control. They can facilitate preliminary engineering goals/planning like where to place drainage systems or footers because Level B addresses many of the problems of inaccurate as builts and abandoned infrastructure or lost records.

GPRS has the nation’s leading utility locating accuracy rating at 99.8% and provides utility maps that support SUE Level B Quality Standards that can also include utility type, size, material and other characteristics of underground infrastructure.

Level A (QL-A)

Provides the highest standard of accuracy available. It requires the use of nondestructive testing methods and potholing (aka daylighting) utilities to precisely plan and map underground utilities. It also provides the utility type, size, condition, material, and other pertinent characteristics and features.

GPRS is not an SUE provider. However, our utility locating and nondestructive investigation standards far exceed industry requirements and support SUE surveys at a QL-B level.

To ensure your subsurface data accuracy without potholing, our nationwide team of elite Project Managers are on standby so you can always find a utility locating expert near you.

Does 811/One Call Provide Accurate SUE Information?

In a startling bit of data that dramatically demonstrates the power of accurate subsurface as builts, a 2020 paper comparing utility strike incidents between Japan and the U.S. found that in 2016, the U.S. had “between 400,000 and 800,000 (roughly two damages per minute)” incidents per year, while Japan saw a total annual utility damage incidence rate of just 134.

Even allowing for the difference in population: Japan’s 125.7 million vs. 331.9 million in the U.S., the Japanese are clearly taking steps to limit utility excavation damage that the U.S. is not.

That difference is a geographical information and data center called The Road Administration and Information Center (ROADIC), created in 1986, that houses underground utility and road construction data in Japan. ROADIC was created after a series of devastating gas line explosions caused by poor underground utility data killed hundreds of people. Japan’s underground infrastructure data is compiled, aggregated, and managed so that any company or government entity preparing to excavate can receive accurate as built underground utility data. It makes sense when you consider the subsurface congestion that is required to support 125 million people on an island prone to extreme earthquakes, tsunamis, and other seismic events.

A surveyor assesses a highway construction site from an overpass
Many states now mandate QL-B or QL-A SUE standards for roadway
construction to reduce delays, relocations, and cost overruns

In comparison, the United States’ federally mandated One Call 811 system can help locate public utilities for general contractors and excavators. The contractors employed by 811, however, are not civil engineers or surveyors per se, and do not provide SUE services.

Further, as of this writing, there is no known national effort to aggregate One Call data into a similar system that maps all known underground public utilities in the U.S. outside of the CGA’s new 50 in 5 initiative.

The other issue facing the U.S. is that more than 60% of all buried utility lines are private, not public, and One Call does not contract to locate private utilities. You must hire a private utility locating service near you to map any private utilities on site. GPRS can map both private and public lines for you, including depths, and provide you with a complimentary layered utility map of your site.

Control Your Data to Control Your Damage

GPRS is leading the industry by providing every utility locating customer complimentary access to its SiteMap® platform (patent pending) containing their accurate utility maps.

Quote: The definition, the detail you provide with SiteMap's data is just so much better than anything we've had.
Click the image above to learn more about limiting utility damages for facilities, campuses, and jobsites with SiteMap®

SiteMap® allows customers to visualize their underground infrastructure in much the same way as Japan’s data system, with accurate as-built data.

When you hire GPRS, your subsurface utilities are located, mapped, and layered in our interactive geospatial platform that allows you to deconstruct your utility map, as well. So, you control your data to provide subcontractors and other team members the precise information they need on any utility. And because it’s cloud-based, SiteMap® is secure, accessible 24/7, and shareable with those you designate for as long as they need the information.

And, because GPRS services support SUE QL-B, you could achieve significant savings by greatly reducing potholing, utility strikes, and the cost overruns usually associated with construction, expansion, or infrastructure installation. GPRS Intelligently Visualizes The Built World®. What can we help you visualize?

Frequently Asked Questions

What phone number can be called to find the locations of underground utilities?

Every state in the U.S. is required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) dedicate the number 811 to One Call utility locating requests as of 2005. Each One Call service also has an online request form, which you can access here.

How do you use a utility locator?

You can find a solid explanation of how utility locating works, here.

What is the meaning of utility engineering?

Mechanical, electrical, and civil engineers can all provide work in the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of utilities like electrical power lines, water lines, telecommunications lines, gas, and water lines, among others. Within the scope of Subsurface Utility Engineering, it generally means a civil engineer or surveyor who is licensed to certify the location of existing underground utilities.