Accelerated gas main replacement programs (MRPs) are in progress throughout the U.S. as utilities across the country work to upgrade, replace and repair aging underground distribution infrastructure. While all projects can be complex, programs in urban areas face some specific challenges.

Heavy pedestrian and vehicular traffic, tight spaces, restricted working times, and a maze of existing (and many times unknown) underground utilities can make MRP efforts in cities especially complicated. By deploying the right technology, opening community dialogue and maximizing project resources, urban projects can achieve efficiency in even the tightest urban working spaces.

Here are three simple steps to a smoother outcome:

  • Unearth challenges early. Relying on old plans and records to identify the locations of underground utilities is not sufficient for safe, efficient MRP projects. Using inadequate data to plan any infrastructure replacement project invariably leads to subsurface surprises that cause delays, redesigns and potential safety risks to communities.

    Improvement projects should use the best available technology to understand what utilities are present and avoid unseen, underground conflicts. In addition to aboveground utility surveying and nondestructive digging such as vacuum excavation, MRP efforts that incorporate 3D modeling or ground-penetrating radar to map underground utilities secure a clearer view of the project area and make it possible to complete jobs faster and safer.
  • Be a good neighbor. To manage community relationships during city infrastructure projects, communication is key. Projects that identify and involve stakeholders early in the process help raise awareness of upcoming construction and alert communities to how they will be affected. Mitigating concerns through information and open dialogue helps to achieve buy-in among businesses and residents or, at a minimum, increases awareness of the long-term program benefits.

    It’s also essential to effectively communicate with stakeholders outside the direct community. Projects should include dedicated resources to coordinate permitting and notify affected utilities to create a more robust implementation plan, secure easements and minimize surprises that could increase disruption and add unnecessary project risk.
  • Plan ahead. Many MRPs dictate rapid deployment and compressed timelines, even while dealing with the logistical challenges of working in urban areas. To minimize disruption to communities and businesses, partnering with an experienced engineering contractor enables access to the right technologies, tools and resources to expedite programs.

    While gas MRP projects are underway, modernization efforts also are ongoing in a wider range of utilities. Each industry requires trained, safety-conscious workers and a skilled workforce. Experienced engineering firms offer the right resources to ramp up and execute projects while incorporating innovative ways to sequence and coordinate schedules. These allow urban areas to maintain normal levels of activity while improvements are underway, as well as minimize costly changes in the field.

Infrastructure improvement projects that use accurate data, open communications and trusted partnerships help deliver successful outcomes in otherwise complex conditions.

David Slavin provides design services for pipeline and pipeline facilities at Burns & McDonnell. He has experience planning, designing and managing engineering projects, as well as construction oversight and field experience.