How SUE Helps Minimize Construction Issues

March 1, 2015

Here’s a recent news report we all want to avoid: “The City of Frisco has shut down all work by contractors installing fiber optic cable in several Frisco neighborhoods after crews cut six natural gas lines in the past month.”

New roadways, street repairs, new infrastructure – it seems construction is everywhere you look. Sometimes, what is lying unseen below ground is taken for granted by contractors, perhaps in an attempt to reduce costs. That is why subsurface utility engineering (SUE) is so important.

The utility infrastructure serving the public is complex. When locations of various infrastructure are unknown during projects, the result can be construction delays, interrupted service to customers, unfavorable publicity, damages, additional costs, safety hazards, and even injuries.

SUE minimizes construction issues on multiple types of projects by accurately identifying the location of utilities early on. This allows better design decisions or design modifications prior to construction, which enhances construction safety, reduces contractor claims and delays, minimizes budget contingencies, and prevents service interruptions. Accurate utility information provides a foundation for a successful project.

SUE In Action
SUE manages risk by identifying the exact horizontal and vertical alignments of underground utilities. For more than 15 years, Halff Associates has been a recognized SUE leader. Our full range of investigative SUE services includes the following quality levels:

  • Level D (Records Research): Depiction of utilities based solely on existing records, recollections, previously engineered plans, etc. This effort level provides an overview to determine congestion of utilities and is useful for planning and route selection.
  • Level C (Visible Surface Features): Depiction of utilities through ground survey of visible utility appurtenances in addition to available Quality Level D information.
  • Level B (Designating): Depiction of utilities by designating virtually all utilities with non-destructive surface geophysical methods (electromagnetic, acoustic, GPR, etc.). This effort level accurately identifies the horizontal position of utilities within a 6-inch tolerance.
  • Level A (Locating or Pot Holes): Non-destructive exposure of utilities using vacuum excavation to verify vertical elevation and confirm the horizontal location of utilities. This verifies size, material, and the utility’s condition through visual inspection.

SUE is beneficial on a variety of projects, including new utility design, utility relocation design, locating utility connection points, boring/tunneling, roadway widening/reconstruction, bridge pier design, drainage improvements, land and site development, and building expansions, among others.


Why Not Use One-Call During Design?
Using one-call locates is required by law during excavation and is intended primarily to ensure workers avoid damaging a utility. SUE services are intended for design as well as construction. One-call locates will advise contractors that a utility is in the area, whereas SUE services will provide the exact location. Because one-call locate tolerances are not equal to SUE designating services, the one-call results aren’t always correct and won’t provide the best available information to make decisions. In addition, one-call locators are responsible for responding to multiple tickets each day, so minimal time is spent on each request, leading to lines being inaccurately marked or not marked at all. The resulting utility surprises have caused quite a few headaches during construction.

The Take-Away
SUE services are superior because they are project-specific, with appropriate time and budget allotted to ensure quality locates are provided. One-call is useful for excavation, but not during design, when accuracy is key to making sound engineering decisions. SUE services limit liability and help avoid costly, time-consuming problems during construction.

What If SUE Wasn’t Performed During Design?
If utility issues arise during construction, Halff can respond quickly to solve your problems. We can designate utilities to determine the horizontal alignment and then pot hole to expose and visually verify the elevation, which will provide valuable information to devise a solution.

Call Halff
Halff offers a full range of professional SUE services and highly qualified, experienced staff to assist with your projects. Our experience includes designating more than 5 million linear feet of utilities and performing thousands of vacuum-excavated test holes for clients, including municipalities, DOTs, and numerous public and private entities.

If Halff Associates can assist your team with SUE services, please call Executive Vice President Jessica Baker, PE, CFM, PMP, at (214) 217-6692.

Halff Associates is an employee-owned, diverse multi-disciplined professional services firm founded in Dallas, Texas, more than 65 years ago. We serve water utilities, municipalities and other public entities throughout Texas.