Montana Mandates the Submission of Accurate As-Builts by Utility Owners

MOST UNDERGROUND UTILITY DAMAGE DURING CONSTRUCTION is attributable to incomplete, inaccurate and out-of-date records and network documentation. This is the result of an inefficient, error-prone, and paper-based information flow from engineering through construction crews resulting in “as-builts” of uncertain quality, which eventually form the utility’s repository of record, typically in a GIS. Several jurisdictions have recognized the problem and have begun to implement measures involving legislation, changes to regulatory rules, advanced technology, and new business practices to address the challenge of ensuring reliable as-builts.

This year, Montana promulgated new rules regarding utility occupancy on state highway rights-of-way. The updated Administrative Rules mandate that as part of a new permitting process, accurate electronic as-builts must be submitted to the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) upon completion of construction. To ensure the accuracy of the submitted as-builts, they must be certified by a licensed professional or be subject to inspection by the MDT.

In 2019, the Montana Legislature enacted Senate Bill 76 which revised the laws relating to the occupancy of utilities on state highway rights-of-way. The bill allows the department to issue occupancy permits for installation, construction, maintenance, repair, or system upgrade of all utilities on state highways. Under this legislation, the Montana Department of Transportation implemented a new rule governing “Electronic Utility Permitting for Right-of-Way Occupancy”.

MDT has implemented an online permitting system to support the new rules. With the new permitting system, MDT is able to track construction starts and completions. This enables MDT to efficiently schedule inspections of new utility installations. Very importantly, network owners/operators can be held liable if, during a future project, the utility location accuracy is not within the certified accuracy, resulting in change orders, delays and other impacts to the project

An as-built survey showing the location (to survey grade accuracy) of newly installed utility facilities must be submitted electronically to the MDT within 90 days of completion of construction. The as-built survey must be certified by a licensed professional engineer (PE) or professional land surveyor (PLS). Alternatively, the as-built survey can be certified by an authorized officer of the utility owner. However, in this case, the MDT reserves the right to conduct an audit and inspection to verify accuracy. In congested areas MDT expects a horizontal location accuracy of ± 0.3 feet. This requirement is relaxed in rural areas to ± 1.0 feet or more depending on the situation.

Since January 2020, the location of all new underground infrastructure in the state highway rights-of-way has been captured in UPAS Utility Permitting Administration System (UPAS) and Utility Location Data Repository Module (ULDR), which were developed by Utility Mapping Services, Inc. (UMS) and GEO.works International. Maps of underground utilities are available to users over the web to any device with a browser, including mobile devices. MDT controls access to the data. The 3-D Utility Location Database Interface provides the ability to query, edit, import, and access utility data included within MDT’s UPAS database and supports data flows to any applications which support .SHP and .CSV file formats, including ESRI, Autodesk and Bentley products, for viewing and design.

This is a remarkable initiative that addresses the challenge of ensuring that accurate data about the location of new underground infrastructure is captured. Currently, it only applies to new infrastructure, but with the rapidly evolving technology for capturing the location of underground utilities to survey-grade accuracy, it is to be expected that a similar approach will be applied to determining and reporting accurate locations for utilities exposed during excavation.

Geoff Zeiss is principal of Between the Poles. Learn more at geospatial.blogs.com

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