Technology has revolutionized underground utility mapping. Utility location specialists now use a combination of traditional survey methods, modern GPS technology and existing electronic data to produce high end accurate mapping across several software platforms such as AutoCAD, GIS, Google Earth, etc.
Engineers, surveyors, contractors, excavators, drilling crews, property owners and facility managers no longer have to work ‘in the dark’ or rely on outdated and inaccurate utility maps. With highly accurate and up to date maps, underground utilities and infrastructure is represented with exact x,y,z data. Anything from building construction to route design & surveys can rely on the data to avoid unnecessary delays, damages and expenses during both the design and construction phases of a project.
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The Problem with Underground Utility Mapping Today
The main problem with utility mapping today is that workers excavating for public and private construction or renovation projects routinely find major location discrepancies in the utility maps available. Underground utility maps are largely unreliable for a number of reasons.
In some cases, the positions of new pipes, electrical and telecommunications cables were inaccurately mapped when they were installed. Additionally, not all utility providers and public entities have accurately maintained their maps. The coordinates of changes made over the years are not always registered properly so that maps can be updated accordingly.
Some utility companies still rely on outdated paper maps or disorderly technicians’ reports to find the location of buried gas pipes, water mains and hydrants. If they haven’t invested in upgrading the technology used for surveying and mapping, locating underground utilities becomes extremely difficult.
Over time, it’s also possible that geophysical factors cause changes in the course of an underground utility.
The Importance of High-Quality Underground Utility Maps
The consequences of using inaccurate, unreliable or outdated utility maps can be expensive and dangerous, even deadly. Contractors, excavators, drillers, property owners and facility managers face significant risks without high-quality maps.
Construction crews and equipment have to stop work when they find an unmapped pipe, cable or electrical line and may have to wait for it to be relocated. In some areas, fines may be imposed on projects that interrupt traffic or business for an excessive amount of time.
In addition to costly construction delays, property and environmental damage, injuries, utility service outages and business interruptions can become huge disasters for contractors and property owners.
Before excavating, drilling or beginning construction, renovation and landscaping projects, underground utilities should be located using reliable, up-to-date maps. Reliable geospatial and location information of underground utility lines can mean avoiding unnecessary delays, damages and expenses.
Learn more about private utility location services.
The Tools Used to Produce Accurate Underground Utility Maps
The good news is that we no longer have to rely on inaccurate or outdated underground utility maps. Now, technology makes extreme accuracy possible and we can produce high-quality maps.
Underground locating technologies, including subsurface mapping, electromagnetic locators (EML), ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electronic or radio frequency (RF) pipe and cable locating tools, ensure utility mapping with unprecedented accuracy. Each technology has its own strengths and weaknesses, so information and data collected from each should be merged to provide sound utility marking.
Using this locating equipment, combined with traditional surveying, technicians are able to confirm or update existing utility maps, discover new underground utilities and create entirely new maps. The data collected using these tools can be spatially referenced with a survey grid created for the area or simultaneous GPS data. This can facilitate real-time utility marker placement.
Data collected with these tools can also be imported into to CAD drawings and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) programs to update or amplify existing information and build an accurate digital record of the locations of the underground infrastructure. This can be used to map utilities, even on large sites, efficiently.
Companies like SoftDig® utilize all the tools of the trade – traditional and electronic surveying equipment, handheld GPS and CAD/GIS software – to produce high-quality utility maps with precision accuracy down to 5 cm. We can then produce a range of useful GIS products which are compatible with Google Earth and geodatabases.
The Advantages of Accurate Underground Utility Maps
With the addition of GIS and GPS data, it is possible to make a virtually 3D map using CAD and GIS programs. Project managers, excavators, drillers, property owners and others can see the actual distribution of utility pipes and cables in relation to roads, buildings and property ownership lines.
Applied to a whole range of property management, real estate and infrastructure construction projects, high-quality buried utility maps facilitate strong decision making, project planning and management. They allow our clients to proceed with their projects on time, safely and with confidence.