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Required Graffiti or Utility Locate Painting?

By: Tom Davis Category: Misc Urban Infrastructure, Sidewalk Features, Underground Utilities

CIMG7793.JPGState law in Texas requires someone digging in the public rights of way to call “One Call” who then notifies all utilities the area where digging may occur so the utility can mark the locations of their underground facilities. That is a good as it preserves the services expected by the utility’s customers and the utility does not have to make repairs thereby increasing the cost to the customers. It also protects the workers doing the excavation as, for example, hitting a high-voltage duct bank is not a healthy thing.

But the issue is in the application of the markings. There are published guidelines for the style and frequency of the markings as well as the color. The color indicates the business type of the utility, e.g. telecommunications, power transmission, natural  gas. The frequency of the marks can remove all doubt about the location as well as remove all value of the classy, upscale look paid for by the public.

2004-03-23 locates on LA_0835.JPGI have long argued that the markings quickly become damage to the public’s property for the sake of an over-reaching attempt to transfer liability from the locating company to the contractor. The first photo here is clearly that situation when the duct bank marking is less that one foot from the manhole. Looking closely you will note the paint is on our brick pavers. The paint is blasted onto and into the very porous and absorbent paver from a few inches away and the pigment is quickly drawn down deep into the concrete or clay.

Hopefully the paint is water based so the pigment will disappear in a year or so. The guidelines referenced by state law recommend water based paint but it took a lot of complaining and the threat of a city ordinance to get the industry to use it. At least we hope every one is always using water based paint but every time I see a person painting the street and sidewalks I ask to see the can. CIMG7813 spots.JPG

The improvement in the guideline’s requirements I have seen is when the markings must show where something is crossing under a brick paved street or paver crosswalk the markings become dots of the same color as the full size markings on either side. That is a great improvement as the location is clearly shown but the pigment in the dot–drawn deep into the paver or brick–is not the same long term eye sore as the full-size mark. The company who placing “locates” for MCI use the dot method in the paver areas and deserve our thanks for that responsible approach.

So, once it is there then it begins to wear away and in a year or two it will be hard to see. But, in some cases the contractor called too early, did not finished, or his staff keeps sending in the same whole project-area request and so the paint is reapplied, by state law, within 30 days to the same markings. More pigment is blasted into the paver and the markings come closer to being permanent, further defacing the public’s property.

Along with encouraging the use of water based paint we encourage the contractor to identify the area to be worked. What will happen is they will request one block either side of the planned excavation and when that is an intersection the paint appears on four blocks–one block in each direction. When the “locator” is new they could, and have, marked the perimeter streets around that one intersection.¬† A total of 12 blocks are then defaced for the sake of one small excavation.

How can you control this situation? I do not think it can be controlled but it can be influenced by regular communication with the Utility Locating Council who manage the one-call process and who share our concern for the defacement issue. They remind the locating companies to help. We found that the average person does not want to deface a great place, or invoke a new ordinance, and so to date the voluntary restraint mode has reduced the painting to something that does not create outrage.

There is a practice called “white lining” that could reduce the damage caused by widespread painting when only a small area will be excavated. But that is another post as this one is long enough even though I know you find the topic exciting, ;-).

Please re-read the first paragraph as we must keep in mind the value of the markings. We must also stay vigilant and not let them go beyond what is needed to achieve that purpose.

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3 Comments to “Required Graffiti or Utility Locate Painting?”


  1. Vertical Driller.. says:

    as Larry stated the writer dose have a good idea of what is going on. Currently my teammates and I are installing 70 some miles of fiber. If it rains the markings are usually washed away. If it’s the least bit damp out this pain will not stick brick roads. I can not speak for the locate crew in your area. I can tell you where I am, we have a 3rd party locate for every service where we are drilling. For instance if these marking are not on the ground I can not install the fiber optic that runs past your house and you can not upgrade to the “fastest internet” of the current time. These marking save lives, property damage, and law suits. ie.. If my locator fails to mark something and I am in your area. If I hit it you lose the service, being gas, electric, water, cable, phone.. get the drift? some temp paint on the ground keeps you connected to the world. Now for the lives the paint saves, Drill operator, water truck driver, He hits a lvl 3 power that was not marked poof 2 ppl are lost, he hits an unmarked 6 inch steel cased gas line that runs thru your front yard and it’s a Saturday. Kids playing in the yard, someone is mowing the front lawn, the Mrs. is in the flower garden.. A lot more lost than just the 2 employees. Personally I don’t care if I blow up a quarter million dollar drill, I don’t care If I hit a water line and your basement gets flooded. It’s all replaceable and we are insured. I would not be able to live with my self if I caused harm to another person because there was not enough paint on the ground. I do see you are in Texas, I know the state is in the process of acquiring enough contractors with drills to replace all the steel gas lines. The old ones are close to the end of their service. There will be loads of paint on the ground.

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  2. An interesting article. The writer obviously knows a fair amount about the job of locating, but doesn’t seem to see the entire picture. I do cable locates for a living, and feel reasonably qualified to add a few points. Very very few contractors will do a job with only one locate request. All too frequently a contractor will request a locate weekly for three or four weeks before even showing up to do the job. Since the paint normally does not last for more than a few weeks on a road surface with reasonable traffic, the locator knows he/she has to put down enough paint to be able to see the marks when he comes back the next time. This saves time by not requiring hooking up the transmitter and wandering around in traffic with your head down. Trust me, if you did this for a living, using a minimal amount of paint is the last thing you want to do.

    Additionally, I don’t know about your paving bricks, but those used in my city absolutely do not absorb anything. The paint wears off the hard smooth surface much quicker than on concrete.

    True, locating is a way of assigning blame. In my experience the most careless contractors, who hit things, are the ones who request the most geographically stupid locates. They ask for both sides of the street for the length of the block, when all they end up digging is one small hole. They do this because they’ve been fined for damaging gas, electric, telecom, whatever, and feel as if they’re getting even somehow.

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  3. The real issues we find here is lack of training of the locate tech and failure of the contractor who is doing the excavation.
    The locate company can train locators to be mindful of how the area looks to the public while still leaving plainly visible marks. The locate company can also choose to have their techs use chalk paint, colored grease pencils or crayons and off-set marks from an area which is less sensitive to blatant marks.
    The contractor can set up meetings with locators and specify the exact extent of work needed. This is the biggest problem that we as locators see and the reasons are: certain contractors deride locators or the utility company they work for in general, certain contractors never visit job sites and over call their locate requests, some are notorious for not caring what facilities may be in their way and disregard marks forcing more blatant marks, many fail to actually do the work and proceed to recall locate requests time after time after time.
    I know all this because these are the issues our locating dept faces on a daily basis.
    There is some recourse though. First, the Locate company can be liable to remove over zealous marks, I’ve both seen and done it myself. Second, the contractor in many states is held liable by the one-call laws to remove any and all marks as well as damage to any area worked upon, restoring it to it’s original state or better.
    In summary, there is things that can improve on both sides of the paint and there is recourse to have excessive markings removed. Check the state laws.

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