Technology Report 2022

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Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) and Technology

CGA’s survey generated significant feedback on the inclusion of (or limited inclusion of) SUE within the Committee’s list of current damage prevention technologies. Many responses focused on the need to include SUE as a technology or technology category.

“While a lot of technology is listed in the survey, SUE is the only combination solution because it uses multiple technologies for the project in the planning and design phase. There is not just one technology alone that will improve the process. The use of SUE is critical to cost savings during construction. Technologies are only as good as the practitioner applying them, and standards of care and best practices are essential.”

“Please request from a creditable source to have a current SUE study performed. I know of three over the past 20 years and it's time to get a current one performed to continue to show the cost savings to all the stakeholders.”

The Technology Committee did not list SUE as a technology because SUE is defined as a “process” rather than a technology.

CGA’s Best Practices Glossary defines SUE as (emphasis added):

An engineering process for accurately identifying the quality of underground utility information needed for excavation plans and acquiring and managing that level of information during the development of a project.

However, SUE can provide significant benefits to damage prevention and many technologies can be applied to the SUE process. The SUE process involves quality levels (QL) of increasing accuracy or reliability with two levels essentially corresponding to surface marking (QL-B), locating and potholing (QL-A) – core components of the safe digging process. 

Best Practice statement 2.14, Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE), states that “When applied properly during the design phase, Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) provides significant cost and damage-avoidance benefits and the opportunity to correct inaccuracies in existing facility records.”

Studies in the U.S. and other countries have found positive return on investment (ROI) from using SUE on highway projects, while minimally increasing overall project costs. It appears that the latest study was sponsored by PennDOT in 2012.[1] One of the first was conducted in 1999 by Purdue University and commissioned by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Based on 71 projects from four states (North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Virginia), the study calculated an ROI of $4.62 for every dollar spent on SUE on highway construction projects. A reanalysis several years later produced a revised ROI estimate of $12.23.

In this year’s Report, there are a variety of technologies listed that can be applied to the SUE process.  Additionally, some of the Report’s case studies highlight these technologies. Two in this year’s Report, Exodigo and KCI, specifically mention SUE. Two other case studies, Skipper and ULC, do not mention SUE but have potential for SUE applications. 

The Technology Committee recognizes the importance of SUE and welcomes case studies focused on technology that can be applied to SUE. In addition, the new digital Technology Hub discussed below will enable searching for key terms and phrases such as SUE.

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