More infrastructure spending is on the horizon, and along with it will be more excavation in our cities and towns—and all this activity by telecommunications, power companies and the many firms involved in public works and infrastructure is likely to cause more disruption to all.
New funding streams at the federal, state and local levels will bring new fiber optic cable installation, utilities and underground power lines, all of which are likely to be up-and-coming projects as a result of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. If not coordinated properly, these projects could become a headache for anyone trying to get around town when multiple interests are excavating and tearing up the area, with no coordination with other projects.
This has brought attention to a “dig once” approach that, if pulled off successfully, would involve collaboration between organizaations and cause much less disruption to everyone that must be detoured around excavation. When the Government Accountability Office studied the problem back in 2012, they found that not only would collaboration provide the obvious benefits of less excavation, and therefore less disruption, but it would also cut overall costs by over 30% in cities and over 15% in rural areas.
Many industries such as building construction, airframe manufacturing, shipbuilding and others use planning and scheduling tools to minimize disruptions.
In their August 2022 article, “‘Dig once’ could help states manage material and worker shortages,” McKinsey & Co. notes that fidelity and rigor in scheduling and planning excavation not only reduces costs, but helps all stakeholders manage already strained resources such as material supply and labor shortages.
A straighter path in excavation that heads towards “dig once,” instead of digging in multiple places at different times, by different entities, resides in coordination of effort. According to McKinsey & Co., some states have already taken initiatives.
The article cites several examples of successful dig once approaches: “Arizona, for example, requires its Department of Transportation (DOT) to coordinate with telecom companies during road construction projects along rural highways to install broadband conduits and help close the digital divide. Illinois, Maryland, and Minnesota also promote coordination between their DOTs and private broadband providers. The Michigan Infrastructure Council has a coordination portal that documents infrastructure construction and alerts owners to overlapping projects.”
In addition to simple coordination by different stakeholders, they also promote the use of digital tools—just as is used in other complex projects—as a reasonable approach to minimize excavation and dig once.
“More sophisticated digital tools could also be harnessed to improve project design and delivery,” according to the report. “For example, models that draw from multiple sources could be built on top of a geospatial map of the entire infrastructure portfolio and then layered with information on individual projects.”