$1 billion lost in system to protect underground utilities in Missouri

Missouri

Dig hard ground with a shovel. Garden work in the fall.

*Correction: An earlier version stated the $61B in waste was due to people not calling 811 before they began construction projects. The story has been updated to reflect the correct information.

ST. LOUIS – Missouri is one of the states at the greatest public risk due to lax policies and enforcement of its 811 system.  A new study by the Infrastructure Protection Coalition shows in 2019,  Missouri’s estimated total damage cost was about $1.1 billion in annual and out-of-pocket cost to the system.

Nationwide, failures are costing $61 billion a year in waste and excess according to the Infrastructure Protection Coalition, a group of associations representing broadband, electric, natural gas, pipeline, transportation, sewer, and water industries.

The study,  “811 Emergency” also found waste and cost overruns were largely caused by:

  • utilities and third-party locators needlessly sent out to locate lines for construction projects that then do not happen
  • poor instructions given to locators, causing wasted time or additional work
  • locate marks destroyed by construction and then needing to be reinstalled
  • contractor wait time when location efforts exceed the legal notice period.

Results from the study show Missouri as a low performer. The data was shown with a color-coded map.

This color-coded map shows states based on their 811 system performance. Those in green are among the best performers, pale yellow in the second quartile, bright yellow in the third and the lowest performers in red.

The study recommended 8 changes that will eliminate $1.2 billion over a 3-5 year timeline. They are:

  1. Mandatory Damage Reporting: Refine the dig law to require reporting of all damages (not necessarily investigation intoall damages) to all underground utility types to support more effective data collection, process improvement, damage adjudication and enforcement.
  2. Balanced Enforcement: Cause enforcement authority to weigh involvement of all primary participants in a damage and in a fair and balanced fashion hold the asset owner, excavator and locator responsible in the damage adjudication process.
    a. Bring balance to the penalty structure so that asset owners, excavators, and locators all face similar risks and responsibility.
  3. Third Party Enforcement Board: Develop or enhance third-party investigation and enforcement board, with a balanced number of representatives from each stakeholder group, imbued with both responsibility and authority to manage the entire damage adjudication process.
  4. Ineffective Penalty Structure: Bring balance to the penalty structure or amount so that asset owners, excavators, and locators all face similar risks and responsibility.
  5. Effective Metrics: Identify, develop, collect, and track metrics that effectively support trending and continuous improvement of the state damage prevention performance.
  6. Annual Reporting to CGA and DIRT: Require state entity(s) responsible for the oversight of the 811 system and collection and adjudication of compliance or damage reports, ticket volumes, etc. to submit data to the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) in support of the annual DIRT report.
  7. Positive Response Requirement: A web based electronic positive response requirement by all asset owners / locators through the 811 system. Ticket holders can choose how to receive positive response from this electronic system.
  8. Standardize Ticket Size, Distance, Duration, and Life: Standardize the ticket size, distance, duration, and life to the described characteristics.

“Ultimately, ratepayers are picking up the tab for this waste and bearing the public safety risk. Some states have figured out how to work this system safely and efficiently, and there’s no reason others cannot do the same,” a coalition member and president and CEO of the Power & Communication Contractors Association Tim Wagner said.

Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia make up more than 20 percent of the national waste which is approximately $13 billion. The study said this is due to 811 policies in these places that do not require mandatory reporting of damage to utility lines.

“The important message here is that this is an imminently fixable situation. We can dramatically improve the system to improve public safety and cut waste with a combination of law, regulation, and process changes mirroring what the best performing states are already doing,” Wagner said.

You can learn more information on the Missouri One Call system in the state by going to the site.

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