The National Academies

NCHRP 08-148 [Anticipated]

Utility Abandonment, Out of Service Plant, and Decommissioning without Removal on Public Right of Way

  Project Data
Source: AASHTO Committee on Right of Way, Utilities and Outdoor Advertising Control
Funds: $300,000
Staff Responsibility: Christopher McKenney
Fiscal Year: 2021

This project has been tentatively selected and a project statement (request for proposals) is expected in June 2021. The project statement will be available on this site. The problem statement below will be the starting point for a panel of experts to develop the project statement.

Aging utility infrastructure, advancement of new technologies, and the growth of populated areas in the United States have all certainly impacted utility companies. It is difficult to both maintain utility infrastructure and manage an increasing demand for products and services. Utility companies must maintain a balance by dividing their finite resources to existing facility maintenance and new utility expansions. Typically, budgets ignore unprofitable endeavors; such as removing abandoned, out of service (OOS) or decommissioned utility facilities that no longer meet the needs of their customer base. When building their infrastructure, utility companies frequently need to encroach within primary highway Right Of Way (ROW) or cross highways with their facilities.  State law typically provides utility companies the authority to place their facilities inside highway public ROW. Utility companies that place their facilities in public ROW may later abandon, take OOS, or decommission utility facilities. When this happens, the State Transportation Authority (STA) may not be notified of the change in status. Despite the changed status of the facility’s use, the utility company retains responsibility for the facility/infrastructure. For the purposes of this proposal all abandoned, out of service (OOS) or decommissioned facilities will be referred to as OOS facilities. 

Since increasing numbers of utility facilities occupy public right of way, it is to be expected that OOS facilities are becoming significant, partially due to the increased activities within the oil and gas industry and an aging facility infrastructure. OOS facilities often negatively impact STA construction projects and it is expected that this will happen more frequently as the numbers of OOS facilities increase. Since these facilities are not in service, they are typically undocumented on utility company mapping and left unmarked by 811 utility locators.  These OOS facilities may not be identified until the contractor actually exposes the facility. When this happens, work stops to identify the facility type, owner, active or inactive status, how to address the facility during construction, and what the potential consequences are. These delays affect the contractor, which is then passed onto the STAs and subsequently taxpayers. Further complexities, delays and costs may occur if the OOS facility is an environmental concern as in cases of OOS asbestos containing concrete pipe. This leads to questions on how to remedy an increasing problem that unduly burdens the STA. What should utility companies do with OOS facilities once they are no longer useful?  What should the permitting STA do to minimize OOS facility impacts to their work? Which entity is ultimately responsible to record the locations of these utilities? How can STA’s avoid allowing utility lines to fall into this derelict status? Should OOS utility removal be a required condition of permitting ROW occupancy? How can a STA address OOS facilities during transportation project design and development to minimize negative impacts during construction?

As an element of transportation project development, the utility coordination process is the ideal place for STAs to manage OOS facilities that exist in a project footprint. Defining typical effective and required processes for identifying these facilities and addressing their existence in the project footprint during the utility coordination will help STAs optimize their efficiency in project execution. It is also necessary for the proposal to identify a long-term resolution to OOS facilities once permitted to occupy ROW. When researching utilities deemed “Abandoned” or “Decommissioned”, some publications discuss the problems they cause, without mentioning ways to go about fixing them. Even fewer appear to address whose responsibility it is to rectify the situation. A search of the Transportation Research Board database indicates that the research done in this area does not answer the questions proposed here. Given the impact OOS utilities have on transportation construction delays, the research would have the opportunity to save time, money, and possibly lives.

The study will focus on three areas of STA operations commonly impacted by OOS facilities: Permitting, Project Development, and Project Construction. This research will minimize impacts due to OOS facilities by documenting and analyzing effective practices in permitting utility occupancy in public ROW and managing OOS facilities via utility coordination before, during, and after transportation project construction. It will find information identifying and assessing various means utility companies and STAs currently handle permitted OOS utilities, finding effective, cost and time efficient practices. A special focus will be needed on asbestos concrete pipe an asbestos-containing material or ACM. This particular aspect should include a review of EPA guidance including NESHAP (National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants 40 CFR 61 Subpart M, 61.151(e) and 61.154(h). The study will identify means to increase utility coordination efficiency on transportation projects during project development, identifying OOS utilities, and addressing their proximity to avoid negative impacts during construction. Most STAs and construction entities are aware of the problem and therefore the research would be more focused on finding the best ways to locate, designate and either remove, relocate or revitalize the existing utility. The solutions may include early identification and location of utilities but will also need to address what each entity may be expected to do in the process. The product of the research will be a “Scoping Guide", defining effective practices, policies and actions for a STA to use in similar situations.

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