Common Ground… Common Goals… Common Good

Ron M. Olitsky
President, Underground Service Alert
Corona, California
Chair, OCSI Committee

Leonard Krumm
Director-Field Services
City of Minneapolis, Minnesota
Chair, UPROW Committee

APWA’s One-Call Systems International (OCSI) and Utility and Public Right-of-Way (UPROW) Committees believe that improved communication, coordination, and educational efforts are necessary between public agencies and users of public rights-of-way. The ultimate objectives of these efforts are to reduce incidents of damage and ensure the optimum utilization of public rights of way for the general good of all. Both committees feel that improvements in these areas will go a long way in furthering APWA’s long-range goal of being “acknowledged as the public policy advocate for the public infrastructure.”

A new awareness of infrastructure protection came about after the publication of the report, Common Ground Study of One-Call Systems and Damage Prevention Best Practices. This report was prepared in accordance with and at the direction and authorization of Congress in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). The purpose of this report was to identify and validate existing best practices performed in connection with preventing damage to underground facilities. The practices that were identified addressed essential elements to successful damage prevention programs for underground facilities. These practices included: stakeholder communication while planning construction activities; accessibility of one-call centers; accurate locating and marking; safe digging throughout excavation; education and enforcement to facilitate compliance; marketing strategies to enhance public education; and effective reporting and evaluation of damage prevention programs.

Based on the success of the “Best Practices Report,” all parties concerned felt the damage prevention effort must go forward. A non-profit organization known as the “Common Ground Alliance” has been formed. In addition to APWA, members of the Alliance include the American General Contractors Association, National Utility Contractors Association, National Utility Locating Contractors Association, American Gas Association, American Petroleum Institute, Edison Institute, and National Telecommunications Damage Prevention Council. The Alliance’s mission is to ensure public safety, environmental protection, and the integrity of vital underground services by promoting effective damage prevention practices. The mission is to be accomplished by:

Fostering a sense of shared responsibility for the protection of underground facilities;
Supporting research for damage prevention;
Developing and conducting public awareness and education programs;
Identifying and disseminating the stakeholder best practices such as those embodied in the Common Ground Study; and
Serving as a clearing house for data collection, analysis, and dissemination.

So how does all this effort fit in with APWA? Throughout the Best Practices effort and now the Common Ground Alliance, APWA through its OCSI Committee has been part of the team and has had a seat at the table. However, there has not been that same type of commitment from the municipalities and public works departments in this country. As a result, earlier this year the OCSI and UPROW committees drafted a resolution to be considered by the APWA Board of Directors. The resolution requested that the Board issue and promulgate a strong statement of encouragement for buried facility damage prevention, buried infrastructure protection and “Dig Safely” activities by municipal, state and county agencies, and that membership and participation in one-call centers be supported and encouraged. (The full text of the resolution is in the accompanying sidebar.)

An area of great concern to both committees is the installation of underground facilities and the rate at which the space in the public rights-of-way is filling up. As the number of utilities in the streets increase there is a greater chance of damage to the existing facilities and a significant decrease in the structural integrity of the pavement.

OCSI and UPROW are committed to creating a forum where one-call centers and public works agencies will work collaboratively with both the energy industry and the communications industry. Better communications between underground facility owners through “utility coordination committees” is one immediate step that can be taken to reduce conflicts at the local level. On the national level, UPROW is embarking on a major campaign to educate public works agencies about their rights and responsibilities.

In March 2001, a second summit will be held to address public right-of-way management issues. However, before the summit occurs, there will be several opportunities to increase your knowledge in this area. The UPROW Newsletter and the APWA web site contain a lot of valuable information. Both can be accessed at Then click on the UPROW P/E/T Committee. The 2000 APWA Congress in Louisville had 12 technical sessions, two chat rooms, and two roundtable discussions that addressed public rights-of-way management and underground utility damage prevention.

Managing the underground space for efficient use and damage prevention is difficult. By working together and sharing our experiences, we can reduce the problems that frequently occur and make the public rights-of-way an easier, safer place to work.

For more information, contact Ron Olitsky at 951-808-8111 or, or Leonard Krumm at 612-673-3759 or




American Public Works Association


Protection of Buried Infrastructure


WHEREAS the state, provincial, municipal, and county members of APWA own and operate buried infrastructure;
the state, provincial, municipal, and county members of APWA have a significant capital investment in that buried infrastructure;
that buried infrastructure is susceptible to excavation damage;
damage to that buried infrastructure reduces its life expectancy and has the potential to contaminate the environment and cause collateral damage;
the repair of that damage has the potential to place at risk the safety of the employees of the municipal, state and county members of APWA; and
the state, provincial, municipal, and county members of APWA have an obligation in diligence to protect that buried infrastructure from damage and to safeguard the public:
the APWA Board of Directors issue and promulgate a strong statement of support for and encouragement of buried facility damage prevention, buried infrastructure protection and “Dig Safely” activities by its municipal, state and county members; and
the APWA Board of Directors issue and promulgate a strong statement of support for and encouragement of membership and participation in one-call centers by its state, provincial, municipal, and county members; and
the APWA Board of Directors commends the efforts of those members of the Association, and those of other professional organizations, for their leadership in participating in the Common Ground: A Study of One-Call Systems and Damage Prevention Best Practices (August 1999), sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Research and Special Programs Administration, Office of Pipeline Safety, and
the best practices outlined in the Common Ground Final Report which are appropriate and applicable to states, provinces, municipalities, and counties as owners of buried facilities, be considered for incorporation as “recommended practice statements” in the Public Works Management Practices Manual, during the update of the 4th edition.