The Three C’s to an Effective UCM Workflow: Content, Coordination and Communication

| Sean Weingartner


We all know a quality Utility Conflict Matrix (UCM) is the foundational guide to utility coordination. Managed effectively, a UCM is a living document that evolves throughout a project and process and adapts as needed to minimize the chance of time delays or budget overruns.

In these times of ever tightening design and construction schedules, the UCM is a valued resource—if it is developed with accurate data and an eye on communicating practical solutions with minimal impact.

Early Access to Design Data

As a central resource that combines existing conditions, proposed designs and concepts for utility/infrastructure alignment, a UCM facilitates communication amongst the transportation agency, design team, and utility company and helps drive a project from concept to completion.

With design and utility location data as a foundation, a UCM outlines the inventory of every utility within the specified project limits, as well as potential conflicts based on subsurface utility data that is provided by the utility. It will also include right-of-way acquisitions, acquisition dates, utility construction times, permits, etc. It can be a complex compilation of information.

We’ve found the UCM template created by FHWA, AASHTO and TxDOT is one of the best starting points. And of course, color coding improves collaboration and communication.

Every good UCM begins with basic design data provided by the engineer about the project as well as current and accurate aboveground and subsurface utility data—records that will drive utility coordination decisions down the road. Early access to plans is the best way to avoid compressed design and construction schedules.

Seems obvious, right?  Yet, it’s often the first stumbling block in the development of a UCM. Ideally, the 30% PS&E design is an optimal phase to begin any UCM discussion. Experience shows that 60% is too late to develop a balanced plan that considers the needs of both the transportation agency and the utility.

A second, and often bigger challenge, is data accuracy and completeness. The knowledge and skills of the utility coordinator to make quality recommendations and judgement calls to the project owner and utility mean nothing if there is missing or outdated content.

Just recently, I was the utility coordinator on a regional toll road project. The UCM indicated a potential of 150+ conflicts. We mitigated all of them through design considerations or utility relocations with SUE, survey, and design data. Unfortunately, there were some undocumented telecom utilities missing in the records that were not found during field research, but instead found during construction—creating a delay and additional time-sensitive work for the utility.

Like any planning process, a UCM is only as good as the data placed in it. A quality UCM becomes the foundation for effective coordination and collaboration.

A Resource for Resolution

At its most basic, a UCM is a custom guide for conflict resolution. A utility coordinator should be a trusted advisor with a clear understanding of the roadway project to be constructed as well as the utility network. Like any renovation or expansion to existing conditions, there will be adjustments.

As the project progresses and conflicts are identified, we rely on the familiar Avoid, Minimize, Accommodate, or AMA, industry process.

Initially, a UCM advisor will work to Avoid the impact to a utility by looking at design changes or adjustments that leave a utility in place while maintaining UAR compliance.

If a design adjustment is not possible, the UCM advisor will work to Minimize the impact to a utility owner. This could be done through a mix of some project redesign and minimal utility relocations.

The final option is to Accommodate the utility relocation. Sometimes it’s the only way necessary. The goal is to work through this process as early as possible to minimize project schedule, reduce construction costs, and reduce costs to the project owner and the utility—and it requires clear communication and collaboration by all parties.

In summary, a quality UCM requires an experienced UC, quality content, considerable communication, and collaboration to achieve an effective utility coordination workflow that saves time and cost while minimizing work and rework by all parties.

At SAM, the use of a UCM is the foundation to successful Utility Coordination and acts as our guide on all of our client’s projects. We make sure to include strong content, continuous collaboration, and effective communication in every single UCM we manage.  To learn more about SAM’s Utility Coordination services and our process, please contact Sean Weingartner at 512-685-3522 or SWeingartner@sam.biz. For an overview of SAM’s Utility Coordination services, visit Utility Engineering Services.

Sean Weingartner

Sean Weingartner joined SAM in 2011 and has 34 years of transportation experience with a focus in utility coordination, SUE, and utility construction inspection.

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