The National Academies

NCHRP 10-119 [Pending]

Guidance for Implementing Utility Investigations in Alignment with Project Delivery

  Project Data
Funds: $400,000
Contract Time: 36 months
Staff Responsibility: David M. Jared


While permitting installation of utility infrastructure in roadway right-of-way (ROW) has systemic benefits, the practice has contributed to utility-related issues being one of the leading causes of delays for transportation projects, per the National Utility Program Review (FHWA, 2018). These delays are often attributed to unknown or inaccurate utility locations. Utility investigations, inclusive of subsurface utility engineering (SUE), are procedures state departments of transportation (DOTs) can implement to locate utilities and help their project development teams avoid these issues. However, few guidelines exist for aligning the timelines for implementing utility investigation (UI) procedures with the timelines of the project delivery process. Many factors influence the optimal approach of UIs for a specific project, and UI needs vary based on the timing of design elements within the project delivery process. 

Inappropriate UIs contribute to significant funding losses due to lack of utility and highway coordination and underlie utility impacts as one of the top three causes of project delays. The proper investigation of utility locations would help project teams eliminate substantial risk from state DOT projects. Research is therefore needed to support state DOTs strategically aligning UIs to project development phases and preventing unnecessary delays.


The objective of this research is to develop guidelines and tools for state DOTs to identify and align UIs and related efforts to project characteristics and development phases, with the overall goal of avoiding or minimizing utility impacts that lead to increased project costs and delays. 

The guidelines and tools developed should, at minimum help (a) determine the need for UIs; (b) select and implement UIs; (c) model UI findings; and (d) communicate UI information. 



Task 1. Conduct preparatory work for stakeholder outreach. 

Task 1a. Conduct a literature review. Consider (a) resources such as related NCHRP research and SHRP2, FHWA, and ASCE publications; and (b) possible UI-supporting tools such as digital modeling and emerging technologies. 

Task 1b. Develop stakeholder outreach plan. The plan shall be submitted to NCHRP for approval. NCHRP approval is required before work on subsequent tasks begins. 

Task 2. Conduct stakeholder outreach. Query state DOT and other practitioners on relevant experience with UI and UI-supporting tools. Identify state DOTs interested in participating in a practitioner workshop and supporting a proof-of-concept trial in later tasks.  

Task 3. Develop a research methodology. Based on the findings from Tasks 1 and 2, prepare a methodology to be executed in Phase II that considers, at minimum: (1) criteria for determining UI need and for UI selection; (2) approaches for consistent depiction; (3) necessary qualifications for staffing and roles; (4) UI deliverable expectations; (5) UI quality assurance practices; (6) alignment of UI tasks to project phases; (7) alignment of design elements (e.g., drainage design) to UI tasks; and (8) consideration of emerging technologies. The intended products from executing the research methodology, per the project objective, are draft guidelines and tools for evaluation in Phase II.

Task 4. Submit interim report. The report shall summarize findings from Tasks 1-3 and include the draft research methodology. Findings from the report shall be presented to NCHRP at an in-person meeting. NCHRP will fund travel for project panel members. NCHRP approval of the report is required before work on Phase II tasks may begin. 


Task 5. Execute the research methodology.  As per Task 3, develop draft guidelines and tools for evaluation. NCHRP approval of the draft guidelines and tools developed is required before work on subsequent tasks may begin. 

Task 6. Conduct an exploratory workshop. Host an online workshop for state DOTs and other practitioners for evaluation of the draft guidelines and tools. Refine guidelines and tools per input obtained from the workshop. Submit tech memo on workshop findings and pilot plan for NCHRP approval. 

Task 7. Implement a concept pilot on one or more state DOT projects. The pilot(s) may include active design projects (preferred), simulated projects, or a combination of these types of projects. The pilot(s) may deal with phases of active projects rather than projects in their entirety.  

Task 8. Develop final guidelines and tools. Use input gained from Tasks 6 and 7 to finalize the guidelines and tools. NCHRP approval of the guidelines and tools is required before work on the final task may begin. 

Task 9. Submit draft final deliverables. Deliverables shall include (1) conduct of research report summarizing the research effort; (2) guidelines; (3) slide summary of the research; and (4) any tools developed in the research. 


STATUS: Proposals have been received in response to the RFP.  The project panel has met to select a contractor to perform the work.


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