The True Cost of Hitting Underground Utilities

The True Cost of Hitting Underground Utilities

When you don’t locate all the underground utilities before you dig, the cost can be high. A 2016 study (“What Do Utility Strikes Really Cost?” ) from the University of Birmingham, UK, School of Civil Engineering attempts to quantify the total, or true, costs of utility or contractor strikes. The study organizes costs into 3 categories:

  1. Direct Costs – the costs to repair the damaged facilities
  2. Indirect Costs – the costs to the organizations directly affected by the outage. For example, if a communications line is cut, the owner of that line cannot charge for pay-per-view viewings of a live sporting event. That lost revenue would be an indirect cost of the damage to the underground infrastructure.
  3. Social Costs – the costs to the larger community affected by the outage and affected by the repairs. If a water main is damaged, the restaurants relying on that water source cannot operate. Those businesses lose revenue, their employees lose wages, and the places that the employees would have spent those wages lose revenue. Businesses whose customers lose access while street repairs are being made also lose revenue. And their employees, etc. If the damage or the repairs interfere with major traffic systems, there are losses from time costs to commuters which will have impacts on their workplaces and personal lives. And damages and repairs will also have environmental impacts.


The “What Do Utility Strikes Really Cost?” technical report examines 16 case studies and employs  a model developed at the iBuild Infrastructure Research Center to understand these total costs. The “average” ratio of direct-to-total costs in this technical paper is 29:1. To put that in perspective, if that average rate is correct for your situation, if your direct repair costs are $5,000 USD, the total costs would be $145,000.

Certainly, the ratio will vary greatly from situation to situation, but the technical report clearly shows that the total (or true) costs always exceed the direct costs. Being aware of that will change the way you approach working around underground utilities.

Cartacoustics products and services can help avoid underground utility line strikes by providing complete 3D position information on all buried utilities.  Check out ASTlive! and ASTserv! to learn more!