About Subsurface Utility Engineering S.U.E.                             


Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) is an engineering process that has evolved considerably over the past few decades. It has been used primarily by State and local transportation departments, design consultants, and utility companies to locate existing subsurface utilities with a high degree of accuracy and comprehensiveness. The SUE process combines civil engineering, geophysics, and surveying, and utilizes surface geophysics, vacuum excavation, and mapping technologies. When used properly it avoids many conflicts and reduces project delays. Its use has become a routine requirement on highway projects in many states. It is strongly advocated by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and many other governmental transportation agencies.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) defines Subsurface Utility Engineering (S.U.E) as an “engineering process for accurately identifying the quality of subsurface utility information needed for highway plans, and for acquiring and managing that level of information during the development of a highway project. Properly used, S.U.E. process prevents unnecessary utility relocations: eliminates unexpected conflicts with underground utilities: reduces contractor delays. Subsequent claims and redesign costs; and enhances safety.”

What exactly is the SUE process? Take into consideration that SUE today is a process. It is no longer paint marks on the ground or vacuum excavation. These technologies are not even mentioned in the ASCE definition. They may be part of SUE, but then again, they may not be.

The SUE process doesn’t follow any set pattern. Rather, it is tailored to individual projects. It essentially involves systematically identifying the quality of utility information needed to design a project, and acquiring and managing that level of information



A SUE project is typically conducted in five phases:

1. Research
2. Designating
3. Surveying
4. Geophysical Investigation
5. Data Management

1. Research involves consultation with utilities companies and local governmental jurisdictions as well as review of any available As-Built drawings.

2. Designating is the use of geophysical techniques to determine the horizontal position of underground utilities.

3. Surveying - information is gathered by means of field survey and can be used in preliminary engineering design to determine the location of possible conflict points. Decisions can be made to locate storm drainage systems and other underground design features to avoid conflicts with existing utilities. The abilities to make these slight adjustments during the preliminary design phase has proven to produce substantial cost savings by eliminating utility relocations and construction delays. Information gathered in the Designating Phase still does not give the design engineer the vertical location of the utility

4. Geophysical Investigation- The fourth phase is used in instances where the vertical position is desired. Daylighting or potholing is the use of nondestructive vacuum excavation equipment at critical points along a subsurface utilities path to determine the precise horizontal and vertical position of buried utilities

5. Data Management -CADD, database management technologies and comprehensive quality assurance programs that are applied to assure the quality, value, and usefulness of the collected data.



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