Transportation Infrastructure:

Impacts of Utility Relocations on Highway and Bridge Projects

RCED-99-131: Published: Jun 9, 1999. Publicly Released: Jun 9, 1999.

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John H. Anderson, Jr
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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO assessed the impact that delays in relocating utilities are having on the delivery and cost of federal-aid highway and bridge projects, focusing on the: (1) extent to which states are experiencing such delays and the causes and impacts of the delays; (2) number of states that are compensating construction contractors for the added costs incurred on their projects because of untimely relocations by utility companies; (3) available technologies, such as subsurface utility engineering; and (4) mitigation methods that states are using, such as incentives, penalties, and litigation, to encourage or compel cooperation by utility companies that are relocating utilities on federal-aid highway and bridge projects.

GAO noted that: (1) the extent of the delays on highway and bridge projects because of relocating utilities ranged from none in 3 states to all projects in 1 state during fiscal years 1997-1998; (2) the states that reported the delays cited a variety of reasons for them; (3) only 10 states thought that the delays had a great or very great impact on the costs or construction schedules of federal-aid highway and bridge projects; (4) states, however, are not always aware of all the delays that occur; (5) the information that states have largely depends on the degree to which individual construction contractors request schedule extensions or submit claims for increased costs on delayed projects; (6) rather than requesting extensions or submitting claims, some contractors told GAO that they accommodate the delays by shifting work crews and equipment to other segments of the project or to another ongoing project; (7) 44 states compensated contractors for utility relocation delays by extending project completion schedules, and 30 paid contractors' claims for increased costs; (8) some contractors told GAO that while direct-cost increases resulting from delays can be recovered in their respective states, either: (a) they usually do not have the time to prepare the paperwork; or (b) the expected reimbursement, along with its timing, is simply not worth the effort to prepare the paperwork; (9) other contractors told GAO that certain states require contractors to assume full financial responsibility for utility relocation delays; (10) 43 states reported that they used computer-aided design and drafting systems during the project design phase of more than half of their projects; (11) although the Federal Highway Administration recommends subsurface utility engineering as a means of using new and existing technologies to accurately identify, characterize, and map underground utilities, only seven states responded that they used this engineering process on half or more of their projects; (12) it is unknown whether the use of subsurface utility engineering has reduced the extent of utility relocations or delays; (13) 41 states responded that they used early planning and coordination and 33 responded that they used special contracting methods as a means to help mitigate the impact of utility relocation delays; and (14) this contrasts with the number of states that responded that they used more forceful mitigation measures to encourage or compel utility companies to complete utility relocations in a timely manner--3 states responded that they used monetary incentives, 7 used monetary penalties, and 2 used the courts.

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