Undergrounding construction unavoidably disturbs soil at the site, generating excess spoils that must be properly disposed of. These spoils must be handled according to specific requirements and often must be hauled off-site for processing, remediation, or disposal. Moving soils back and forth for processing and disposal between off-site locations that are often far from dig sites requires time and resources that could be spent elsewhere. This process is particularly costly in cases where distrubed soil contains hazardous materials.
Underground Infrastructure Innovation Challenges
Labor required for digging tunnels and trenches, laying conduit and pulling and splicing cables drives the majority of undergrounding costs. While some innovation has been made in these areas, the methods and materials used have remained largely unchanged for years.
The existing process of obtaining the necessary permits, approvals and easements for undergrounding projects is burdensome and time-consuming. Depending on the specifics of the project, the permitting process may extend the overall timeline by over a year. The multi-step document preparation process, manual and iterative nature of stakeholder engagement and lack of standardization of design requirements across agencies and jurisdictions all contribute to the lengthy timelines. Given that all projects require some level of permitting, there is an urgent need to improve the process as benefits will be felt across the entire portfolio of work.
When tunneling does proceed in these areas, the project typically requires a more stringent permitting process with longer lead times or more costly construction methods. While best efforts are made in the design phase to avoid these constraints, in some cases it is not feasible to sufficiently alter route design to avoid these areas and the associated additional costs or extended permitting period.
The technology installed to monitor underground utility infrastructure in most cases is reactive, rudimentary and wholly insufficient to effectively manage a vast network of cables over the course of the asset’s life. These shortcomings result in unnecessary strain on installed cables, as technicians are unable to proactively identify failing cables to prevent faults which cause further deterioration of cable health.
Though significant advances have been made in subsurface mapping technology, existing methods remain unable to provide a highly accurate and comprehensive view of subsurface conditions. Even cutting-edge technologies, such as ground penetrating radar (GPR), that are able to more accurately detect variations in subsurface conditions require significant human effort to interpret results, rendering the technology cost-prohibitive for widespread use.