If you’ve been in the damage prevention or utility industry long enough, you’ve undoubtedly fielded a surprised reaction to the fact that all buried utility locations are not precisely known. I think it’s an understandable assumption that they are, even if an insider’s perspective tells us just how difficult and impractical it would be to achieve. After all, roadways are mapped. The locations of every Culver’s® restaurant in a 70-mile radius can be found in seconds. Endless amounts of data are now publicly available to anyone with an internet connection so why don’t utilities, cities, and excavators have easy access to precise utility maps? We all know it’s not that simple, of course, but Gopher State One Call (GSOC) has set out to improve utility mapping accuracy.
The incomplete or untrustworthy status of utility maps discourage private and public entities from sharing data to improve accuracy over time. This has resulted in siloed information that makes locating more time consuming, planning more expensive, and excavation projects more dangerous.
This is not a uniquely Minnesota issue, of course. The availability of accurate utility maps is an issue everywhere in the United States. There are near countless reasons utilities are difficult to accurately map, but perhaps foremost among these reasons is the sheer number of them. And the fact that they lie underground, visible only through excavation or the use of locating technology. Add those more obvious factors to the list of subtle ones: conflicting interests, historical precedent, and inferior technology.
You can start to see how the current landscape of utility mapping came to be. GSOC hopes to change that landscape in Minnesota, slowly but surely, starting with the introduction of new utility locating technologies.
“I like how our maps rolled over with all the data (previously) collected. That saved a lot of time! I really like that Google Maps is its base map. It is handy to be able drop down to street view and actually be able to view lines from there when mapping. It saves a lot of driving back out in the field!”
- Pete Wyffels, Operations Superintendent, Glencoe MN Light and Power .
Pilot Projects Across the State
GSOC wanted to introduce several leading GPS utility locating technologies to communities across Minnesota. The introduction of these technologies helps communities more accurately map utilities in a timely manner, creating a blueprint for other communities to follow in the future. It is our hope that the pilot projects highlight that it has become easier and easier to attain high quality maps, and the benefits of doing so have wide reaching ramifications.
GSOC worked directly with equipment dealers Subsurface Solutions and Utility Logic to connect the pilot program cities with technology from Radiodetection and Vivax Metrotech, respectively. This program is sincerely a collaborative effort between all stakeholders, and these companies have fully embodied the spirit of the project in their tireless work with twelve Minnesota cities.
The concept of the pilot project was simple: A dozen Minnesota cities were given the opportunity to trial a cutting-edge GPS utility locating system to see if and how it transformed their locating process.
For the pilot program to be practically scalable across the state, the new technology must seamlessly integrate into existing systems, save time, and produce accurate utility maps. The following communities or companies were provided equipment:
- STILLWATER, MN
- HUTCHINSON, MN
- ROUND LAKE, MN
- GLENCOE, MN
- MINNETONKA, MN
- EAGAN, MN
- GOLDEN VALLEY, MN
- CHANHASSEN, MN
- COLUMBIA HEIGHT, MN
- FARIBAULT, MN
- NORTHFIELD, MN
- JAGUAR COMMUNICATIONS, SERVING SOUTHERN MINNESOTA
Thus far, the results of the pilot program have been nothing short of outstanding. Nearly all the pilot program communities touted the ease-of-use of the technology, and many highlighted the potential time savings. Overall, the response to the technology has been promising. The more realistically other communities can be introduced to and capitalize upon these locating technologies, the more accurate maps can be across the state of Minnesota.