Awhile back we wrote on “the elephant in the room” in reference to abandoned underground utilities, and knowing two years later little progress has been made, it is time to revisit the impending issue. Installation of underground utility facilities has been on the rise and likely will not be slowing down for the foreseeable future. Currently there are more than 20 million miles of active underground utilities in the United States alone, and more utilities are being buried underground at rates faster than ever before. This is due to a number of reasons that range from being more aesthetically acceptable than poles, technological advances in equipment, the deregulation of the telecommunications industry, to the creation of new utilities such as those made possible by fiber optics. The advent of fiber optic cable has rendered copper cables obsolete in many cases, which are then abandoned in place. Since the need for buried utility facilities is not slowing down and the number of abandoned utilities is increasing, the result is a decreasing available space problem in the Right-of-Way (ROW).
In the time since we first brought attention to this issue some new developments have been made, yet many concerns still remain. Since many local and state ordinances, if they exist at all, are vague when it comes to establishing requirements for the future of abandoned utilities, there is an increasing number of issues presently at hand that must be addressed.
No Standardization of Process for Removal
Since cost is initially incurred when the utility lines are installed, often times there isn’t any real value seen in cost for removal once that line has met its life expectancy and has been rendered obsolete. With the rapid development in technology, underground utility lines are being installed at rates faster than ever before, and likewise being abandoned at a rate faster than ever before. As Al Field stated recently in APWA Reporter once utilities are in-ground they are “out of sight, out of mind.” Creating a standardization of process for removal that is universal would solve all of these problems.
Expensive Nuisance for Contractors
Abruptly encountering unexpected buried utilities when working at a project site is nothing short of a stressful disaster. All work comes to a screeching halt once the line is discovered causing an inevitable increase in cost and delay in timeline for all parties involved. Abandoned utilities also complicate repairs, limiting the physical space that contractors have to complete their work. A standardized removal process would prevent unforeseen expenses and delays such as this.
Complicates Recovery/Repair Process in Natural Disaster Situations
In moments of natural disaster communication is key, but when underground utility lines have been compromised recovery/repairs are necessary to restore service, time is of the essence. Locating damaged utilities when abandoned utilities are present can be a challenge on a good day, let alone during times of natural disaster when the environment can vary. Though active utilities are accounted for within the One-Call protocol, there is no process for archiving and sharing information on abandoned utilities that may be encountered. This greatly slows down the entire recovery and repair process needed to get services up and running again.
As a utility services provider that believes in creating a world that is technologically sound, and who knows that ROW is a finite resource, we must take action now to ensure that it is sustainable for generations to come. To rid each party involved of the “elephant in the room” and reclaim all usable finite Right-of-Way (ROW) space we must no longer turn our heads and ignore abandoned utilities, but rather establish a procedure for the removal of obsolete infrastructure.