When it comes to underground utilities, an ALTA Survey may not be enough

ALTA Surveys are an important part of the due diligence process, especially on large-scale, high-value project sites. However, an ALTA doesn’t guarantee the identification of all underground utilities. Westwood helps better prepare owners and contractors for construction by expanding on the standard ALTA/NSPS Land and Title Survey (ALTA Survey) requirements for locating underground utilities.

Using Westwood’s Utility Discovery services, we work hand-in-hand with the utility companies’ locators to locate and map buried utilities throughout the construction corridors. Continuous coordination between the locators and Westwood’s civil and electrical engineers allows the construction corridors to be adjusted while teams are in the field to reduce the number of utility conflicts. The result of this effort is a complete geodatabase of utility and design information, a physical demarcation at each crossing prior to construction, and greater confidence that all of the underground utilities on a project have been identified.

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Unidentified underground utilities can stop construction

When unanticipated underground utilities are discovered during construction, crossing agreements must be obtained. This can delay projects, increase costs, and present risks for the wind project’s owner and contractor. The likelihood of finding unexpected underground utilities will increase if an ALTA Survey is the only tool used for identification of utility crossings and encroachments, initial design, and construction planning.

...the current ALTA Survey standard requires field location and depiction of only those existing utilities which are visible or physically marked by the owner.

Most developers use the existing utilities shown on an ALTA Survey as the basis for design and permitting. However, it isn’t widely known that the current ALTA Survey standard requires field location and depiction of only those existing utilities which are visible or physically marked by the owner. Utility companies are often unable to flag all of their utilities throughout an entire wind farm area, which leaves gaps in the survey’s utility information.

Wind projects are more at risk in oil and gas production areas

Projects located in regions with dense oil and gas infrastructure can have significant variations between the ALTA Survey information and the actual location of utilities found during construction. With so many unknowns, owners and contractors can no longer rely on a traditional ALTA Survey to locate all of the underground utilities on a project.

Process and methodology for discovering underground utilities

Expanding on the standard ALTA Survey requirements for locating underground utilities, Westwood has found a way to minimize project delays and added costs. The key is in early convergence of the expertise of our professional surveyors and engineers with that of the key utility stakeholders within the boundaries of a project.

Westwood’s surveyors and field crews:

  • Coordinate locates with both public and private utilities to establish strong working relationships with them and the third party locators. 
  • Use sensitive geophysical equipment to perform utility sweeps around the project disturbance areas, supplementing what is located by others. 
  • Work real-time with our civil and electrical engineers in the office to update the project design based on the resulting utility locate information.
  • Place a physical demarcation in the form of a pothole and pipe at each of the utility crossing interactions.

Expansive, customizable geodatabase reveals what is underground, and more

Westwood’s Utility Discovery services result in a comprehensive geodatabase of utility crossings and design information. Every intersection is defined in a report and digital format. The physical demarcation remains in the field, clearly identifying the pothole location so that construction can proceed quickly through utility crossings, which means no more waiting on the utility company locator.

The customizable database and geophysical files (.shp, .kmz, CAD) are used by the owner and contractor throughout construction. Data includes utility names, contact information, coordinates, utility crossing encroachments and details, construction quantities and details, and more. The broad culmination of data provides greater organization and fewer unknowns before construction begins; enabling the contractor to account for all of the utility crossings in the budgets and schedule, and ensuring a safer and more efficient construction process.

There will always be cases where it is impossible to avoid having to cross over an existing utility. Westwood’s Utility Discovery services provides an opportunity to greatly minimize the risk.


Crossings Marked Onsite Ready for Construction

Accurately Mapped Utility Crossings

Complete geodatabase of utility crossings