The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) announced today the initiation of a three-phase project to develop interoperability standards for underground infrastructure. The project is supported by the Fund for the City of New York and its sister organization, the National Center for Civic Innovation, the Ordnance Survey and other organizations. The underground infrastructure data interoperability project will take two and a half years to complete and will involve the collaboration of many cities, utilities, and engineering and technology companies.
About 4 million excavations are carried out on the UK road network each year to install or repair buried utility pipes and cables. Not knowing the location of buried assets causes practical problems that increase costs and delay projects, but more importantly, it increases the risk of injury for utility owners, contractors and road users. The problems associated with inaccurate location of buried pipes and cables are serious and are rapidly worsening due to the increasing density of underground infrastructure in major urban areas. In the U.S. it is estimated that an underground utility is hit about every minute. Underground utility conflicts and relocations are the number one cause for project delays during road construction. Assuming the average cost of underground strikes is roughly $1000 per strike, the estimated total cost to the U.S. economy is $1.5 trillion annually.
In addition to excavations for construction another prevalent problem with undergound infrastructure are cross bores. Cross bores are gas, power or telecom cables and pipes that bisect sewer pipes. Horizontal directional drilling (HDD), percussion moles and plows are trenchless techniques used to install natural gas distribution and other utility lines. These boring drill heads can easily go through sewer pipes without the driller being aware of it. Since the location of underground sewer pipes, either main line or laterals connecting the main pipes to houses, are only poorly known, cross bores are widespread. Increased recognition of the injury, death and damage caused from cross bores has resulted in federal and state regulatory action. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2011 Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) requirements of Distribution Integrity Management Program (DIMP) is intended to increase the integrity of gas distribution systems. Finding these problems is big business. It is estimated that in the U.S. the total market for identifying and geolocating cross bores is about $1 billion per year.
An economic analysis of the costs and benefits of applying GPR to detect the location of underground infrastructure in Milan estimated that the return on investment is about €16 for every euro invested in improving the reliability information of underground infrastructure. For comparison the ROI in the United States has been estimated to range up to $21 for every dollar invested. This does not include other important, but non-quantifiable benefits including better safety for both workers and the public as well as fewer traffic disruptions.
In the U.S. there is the ASCE standard (A,B,C,D) that is widely used for classifying location information about underground infrastructure according to its estimated reliability. The U.S. standard does not include explicit precision. A,B, C, and D refer to different ways of collecting information about underground infrastructure.
In France there is a standard that define three levels of cartographic accuracy for underground structures. The French standard defines explicitly levels precision.
In the UK the Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 128 developed under the auspices of the British Standards Institution (BSI) and sponsored by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). It not only includes A,B, C, D levels similar to the U.S. standard, but also includes explicit levels of precision levels (Bx).
Currently, the exchange of underground utility information between infrastructure organizations within the same jurisdiction or in adjacent jurisdictions has been greatly hampered by incompatible and incomplete data. OGC anticipates that this project will make a significant contribution towards facilitating improved information management, sharing and collaboration which should make infrastructure planning, operations and maintenance, and emergency response less costly and time consuming, and more effective.
Underground infrastructure networks play essential roles in supplying the resources necessary to make communities livable and functional. Each of these networks can be found alongside each other under city streets, and every building has multiple connections. Interdependencies between different underground networks make things even more complex. In addition to modelling the underground infrastructure, the project will look at ways to model the soil and related components that surround the underground infrastructure networks. These components can affect the ageing and maintenance schedules of infrastructure, and include bedrock, the water table, underground streams, adjacent water bodies, foundations, basements, sidewalks, sidewalk vaults, street beds, etc.
The OGC underground infrastructure project will be undertaken in parallel with efforts by the City of New York to assess its own infrastructure information and to find ways of improving integration, analysis, and emergency response while ensuring data security. It is expected that the projects will be mutually supportive.