Where Do We Stand With The CGA’s 50 in 5 Initiative?

Where Do We Stand With The CGA’s 50 in 5 Initiative?

The Common Ground Alliance (CGA) made waves when it unveiled its “50 in 5” initiative in February 2023.

The national nonprofit dedicated to mitigating damage to buried utilities challenged the damage prevention industry to cut damages to critical underground utilities in half by 2028.

So far, the CGA is pleased with the results.

A woman smiling for the camera.
Sarah Magruder Lyle, President & CEO of Common Ground Alliance

“Once we announced 50 in 5, it basically took on a life of its own,” CGA President & CEO, Sarah Magruder Lyle, told the industry newsletter, The Built World*. “We have seen so many other associations and groups really grab that and say, ‘What can we do to do this?’ It’s gone from a, ‘Well, can we do it?’ to, ‘Yes we can, if we work together.’”

Although achieving a 50% damage reduction in 5 years is ambitious, the CGA had a significant advantage when presenting this challenge to its stakeholders: it had already been accomplished in the City of Chicago, one of the nation's largest and most utility-dense cities.

A construction worker in a hole in a city street.
With more utilities being installed underground than ever before, mitigating damage to existing buried infrastructure during excavation has taken on a new level of importance.

Chicago is one of only two cities – along with New York City – to have its own 811 One-Call System.

811 is the nationwide call-before-you-dig service. Since 2005, federal law mandates that contractors and excavators call 811 before starting any digging to determine the approximate location of public utilities in the area.

What distinguishes 811 Chicago from other 811 services is its project design review process, which lays the groundwork for safe excavation involving utility projects. As detailed in a CGA case study, this approach has led to a 50% decrease in annual damages in the city since 2017.

“811 Chicago’s damage prevention model is unique, and features aspects that other stakeholders may not be able to adopt within the current system in their state or region – namely enforcement authority and oversight of the OUC [Chicago’s Division of Infrastructure Management’s Office of Underground Coordination],” the CGA wrote in its case study. “But there are many aspects of 811 Chicago’s process that any stakeholder, regardless of local regulation, can incorporate into their damage prevention process.”

Any potential utility locating project in Chicago starts with a project design review, which the CGA says emphasizes collaboration and communication among project owners, engineers, and facility operators. As part of the review, project owners submit the location of the project, and the OUC sends them a utility atlas page that identifies the locations of most of the buried utilities in the vicinity of the project location.

The project owner must integrate the data from the utility atlas into an updated project plan that avoids existing utilities. This revised plan is then submitted back to OUC, which forwards it to its member utility owners for review. They examine the plan to ensure that the proposed utility will not interfere with their facilities.

The project gains approval only when all members concur on the revised plans. If any member requests modifications, the project planners must incorporate these changes before proceeding to the permitting phase.

“Projects approved by the OUC ensure a new facility’s potential impact on existing infrastructure is mitigated before the ground is broken,” the CGA wrote. “The OUC returns value to both utility owners and excavators by saving them costs associated with utility damages.”

Lyle shared with The Built World that the CGA was particularly impressed by the transparent communication among stakeholders regarding subsurface utility mapping when they reviewed the data from 811 Chicago.

The CGA’s case study highlights dotMaps as a key factor in Chicago 811's success. This custom-built GIS mapping tool displays the locations of OUC projects, permits, and dig tickets. Stakeholders utilize dotMaps to research both completed and upcoming infrastructure projects. Project and utility owners coordinate their efforts using the data, field crews access it for on-site information, and the public can view ongoing utility projects in their neighborhoods.

“Five years ago, it was ‘We can’t do that,’” Lyle said. “Now we have a lot of places that have shown us we can, and so that, to me, stuck out. Yes, we can provide access to mapping, and we can provide access to this information, and it actually does make the system better. They’ve shown that mapping tools work.”

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Benefits of Underground Utility Mapping?

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*DISCLAIMER: The Built World is published by GPRS.