4 Biggest Challenges of Underground Utility Work

Contractors working on an underground utilities service projects face many challenges. These include a lack of utility-related knowledge, maintenance issues, difficulties locating and excavating utility lines, and the risk to property and personal safety involved in doing so.

underground utilities service

1. Lack of understanding

Open-cut construction still encompasses about 95% of underground utilities service projects and is likely to remain many contractors’ approach of choice. However, it may not be the most appropriate method for a project involving underground utilities.

A lack of proper understanding of utilities can lead contractors to use inappropriate construction methods, increasing the risk of property damage or safety issues.

The use of trenchless technology has become critical when environmental concerns or high amounts of traffic make open cutting problematic. Trenchless technology is considerably more expensive than open-cut construction, so its use may depend on whether the planned bore is long enough to warrant the additional expense.

2. Maintenance problems

A recent trend in the United States has been to install utilities underground. Indeed, the devastation caused by recent hurricanes to power and telecommunications lines makes a strong case for installing utilities underground.

However, it can be difficult to detect and repair any problems once the utilities are installed. The surrounding area is likely to be checkerboarded with pipes, wires, cables, and ducts from other utilities laid in the same location.

3. Locating and excavating utility lines

A major challenge in construction projects involving underground utilities is locating the existing infrastructure. While local utility companies will provide information in response to a “call before you dig” inquiry, the contractor may need more specific, detailed information than what they can give.

Accurately pinpointing the location of existing wires, pipes, ducts and cables will cut down on project costs at the front end. If a contractor inadvertently damages a utility line, the project may have to be shut down and remapped, with all the associated costs that come with it.

Furthermore, if the above-ground area requires any restoration work, accurately siting any underground utility lines will limit digging, cutting, and drilling, minimizing the overall cost of building, landscaping, and cleanup.

Underground utilities

4. Preventing personal injury and property damage

Underground utilities service projects are dangerous by nature, and complacency poses one of the most significant risks to the safety of workers and bystanders.

Steam, gas, propane, electricity, and telecommunications signals are often transported below ground. Numerous incidents involving workers maintaining underground utilities and those working on other underground construction projects are occurring in the United States every year, with many resulting in fatalities.

It is up to the construction industry at large to educate its workers that markings above the ground may be inaccurate or obsolete, that underground utilities are not necessarily laid in straight lines, and that the very act of marking existing underground utilities could cause a dangerous leak or electrical short.

If you would like professional guidance on conducting an underground utilities service in Michigan, do not hesitate to contact us. We have over 25 years’ experience working on a range of commercial construction projects in the Michigan area.