What Is The Role Of “Design Tickets?” And, Do They Really Work?

What are we trying to accomplish with a “design ticket?” Is it a one-stop shop where a project designer can request records of existing utilities? Is it providing designers with enough information that they can make intelligent, informed decisions about avoiding unnecessary utility conflicts during construction by designing around the existing utilities? Is it a mechanism to bring in more revenue for the One Call centers and contract locators with decreased risk? Is it to give utility owners legitimate reasons to keep more locators busy at slack times, and keep operating expenses high so that profits on fixed rates are higher? I’ve heard all these answers over the years from a wide variety of stakeholders. Maybe there’s a bit of truth to all of them. Let’s examine what we do know about design tickets.

Design Tickets: 24 of 50 states have provisions in their One Call laws for design, planning, architectural, or related tickets. In addition, although not included in state laws, One Call notification centers in 8 other states accept and process design tickets. Hence, 32 states utilize the design ticket concept.

Requests to One Call Centers by Designers: Mandatory in 7 states. (One Call notification centers accept and process design tickets in 32 states; however, it is only mandatory for designers to submit design tickets in 7 of those states.)

Response by Utility: Mandatory in 21 states. (One Call notification centers accept and process design tickets in 32 states; however, it is only mandatory for utility companies to respond to design tickets in 21 of those states.)

Means of Responding When Mandated: Records OR Marks (11 States); Records Only (4 States); Marks Only (3 States); Records AND Marks (1 State); Records AND Marks – ONLY if marks are requested by designer (1 state); and Non-Specified (1 state).

Responsibility to Pay for Delay/Redesign/ Claims if Marks are Incomplete or Wrong: There are no requirements in any of the state laws assigning responsibility to pay for delay, redesign, or claims if marks are incomplete or wrong. There are, however, provisions in several state laws absolving the utility companies of any responsibility for providing incomplete or wrong information.

Monetary Penalties for Not Responding: There is nothing in any of the One Call laws specific to failure to respond to a design ticket. However, civil penalties relative to compliance with all provisions in the law may apply.

In general, design tickets are relegated much less attention than construction tickets, which is as it should be. One Call started as a mechanism to help prevent damage to utilities during construction by placing a mark on the ground that presumably serves as the best possible representation of where a utility facility can be found. Marks on the ground are necessary because records are not accurate enough as to existing references, records may be missing or wrong, or never made in the first place. Marks are placed on the ground via primarily pipe and cable locating devices, but sometimes records or best guesses are used, too.

“THERE ARE MANY ABANDONED AND ‘UNKNOWN’ UTILITIES IN THE GROUND.”

There are many abandoned and “unknown” utilities in the ground. Comprehensive utility investigations in cities and suburbs typically find up to 30% more utilities than are found on record, according to the FHWA. During One Call field operations, no one is responsible to find and mark these utilities. This is perhaps one of the largest flaws in the One Call system. Not a single design ticket from any state addresses this issue.

The “promise” to a designer that by calling in a design ticket, he or she will get accurate, comprehensive utility data for their project during the design process is an illusion. Perhaps some utilities will get marked in the field. Perhaps some utilities will show up on supplied records. Perhaps someone will actually show up to mark a utility in the field, so long as regular, higher priority construction tickets all get marked in time.

The solution has always been, and continues to be, a competent comprehensive search for all utilities within the project limits, using proper traffic control and a large toolbox of varying pipe and cable locators, GPR, magnetic gradiometers, and acoustical devices at a minimum. There is an engineering standard for that practice, and it has proven to work very well when it is used. One might think that state One Call statutes would reference such an engineering standard for an “Engineering Ticket,” but until 2018 only Pennsylvania mentions ASCE 38 in its One Call law.

That has changed. Colorado has been providing research and outreach for more than a year to update its CO811 statute. Past law allowed only an excavator to submit a location request to the notification association. The newly-enacted statute requires a licensed professional engineer designing excavation to submit a location request and requires the project owner to pay for the utility investigation. The engineer is required to ensure that the engineering plans meet certain standards established by the American Society of Civil Engineers for defining the accuracy of an underground facility location.

Applicable parts of the statute are as follows:

DEFINITIONS

“ASCE 38” MEANS THE STANDARD FOR DEFINING THE QUALITY OF AN UNDERGROUND FACILITY LOCATION AS DEFINED IN THE CURRENT EDITION OF THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS’ “STANDARD GUIDELINE FOR THE COLLECTION AND DEPICTION OF EXISTING SUBSURFACE UTILITY DATA (CI/ASCE 38-02)” OR AN ANALOGOUS SUCCESSOR STANDARD.

“SUBSURFACE UTILITY ENGINEERING NOTIFICATION” MEANS A NOTICE TO THE NOTIFICATION ASSOCIATION THAT A PROJECT IS BEING DESIGNED BY A LICENSED PROFESSIONAL ENGINEER AND THAT THE PROJECT WILL INCLUDE THE INVESTIGATION AND DEPICTION OF EXISTING UNDERGROUND FACILITIES THAT MEET OR EXCEED THE ASCE 38 STANDARD.

“SUBSURFACE UTILITY ENGINEERING-REQUIRED PROJECT” MEANS A PROJECT THAT MEETS ALL OF THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS:

a) THE PROJECT INVOLVES A CONSTRUCTION CONTRACT WITH A PUBLIC ENTITY, AS THOSE TERMS ARE DEFINED IN SECTION 24-91-102

b) THE PROJECT HAS AN ANTICIPATED EXCAVATION FOOTPRINT THAT EXCEEDS TWO FEET IN DEPTH AND THAT IS A CONTIGUOUS ONE THOUSAND SQUARE FEET. THE TERM “TWO FEET IN DEPTH” DOES NOT INCLUDE ROTOMILLING, AND THE CONTIGUOUS ONE THOUSAND SQUARE FEET DOES NOT INCLUDE FENCING AND SIGNING PROJECTS

c) THE PROJECT REQUIRES THE DESIGN SERVICES OF A LICENSED PROFESSIONAL ENGINEER

ACTIONS

AT THE PROJECT OWNER’S EXPENSE, A LICENSED PROFESSIONAL ENGINEER DESIGNING A SUBSURFACE UTILITY ENGINEERING-REQUIRED PROJECT SHALL:

(a) NOTIFY THE NOTIFICATION ASSOCIATION WITH A SUBSURFACE UTILITY ENGINEERING NOTIFICATION

(b) EITHER:

(I) MEET OR EXCEED THE ASCE 38 STANDARD FOR DEFINING THE UNDERGROUND FACILITY LOCATION IN THE STAMPED PLANS FOR ALL UNDERGROUND FACILITIES WITHIN THE PROPOSED EXCAVATION AREA OR

(II) DOCUMENT THE REASONS WHY ANY UNDERGROUND FACILITIES DEPICTED IN THE STAMPED PLANS DO NOT MEET OR EXCEED ASCE 38 UTILITY QUALITY LEVEL B OR ITS SUCCESSOR UTILITY QUALITY LEVEL

(c) ATTEMPT TO ACHIEVE ASCE 38 UTILITY QUALITY LEVEL B OR ITS SUCCESSOR UTILITY QUALITY LEVEL ON ALL UTILITIES WITHIN THE PROPOSED EXCAVATION AREA UNLESS A REASONABLE RATIONALE BY A LICENSED PROFESSIONAL ENGINEER IS GIVEN FOR NOT DOING SO.

This language is very specific to accomplish the mission of a design ticket, which in Colorado is to attempt to use all applicable geophysics looking for all utilities, all under the direct responsible charge of a licensed professional engineer with training and a working knowledge of surface geophysics, engineering surveying, utility construction and design principles, utility conflict identification and resolution, and utility risks as they pertain to the project.

The engineer will be responsible for negligent errors or omissions in searching for and finding utilities that result in redesign and construction delay claims. In no way is this design ticket information meant to supplant the construction ticket; it is just one more aspect of project development. It actually accomplishes what the true intent of a “design ticket” should be.


Jim Anspach is President ASCE UESI and Cardno Global Senior Principal. He can be reached at James.Anspach@Cardno.com.

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