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How to Reduce Utility Locate Markings

By: Tom Davis Category: Recent Posts, Underground Utilities

2004-03-23 locates on LA MFN and L3.JPGOne way to limit the extent of the multi-color painting of the public streets and sidewalks is a practice called “white lining”. That could reduce the damage caused by wide-area painting when only a small area will be excavated. How it works is that the contractor who knows the area to be excavated delineates that area with white chalk (preferably not white paint even when a water base) by marking small “L” shapes at the corners. Then the locate crew only adds their markings inside the “box”. But, it is not that simple.

The white-lining requires an extra step on the part of the contractor and it does not guarantee minimal painting. Why, because the “box” could be made very large and the street and sidewalk still gets painted far beyond the final excavation. In the contractor’s defense I add that knowing the location of adjacent or nearby utilities can be very helpful when what they find in the hole is not what was expected and the hole has to be moved. If the white-lined area is small and the new location must be outside it then the job stops, the hole is plated over, new white lines placed, “locaters” called and in a couple of days a new hole is dug. All that increases cost that will be passed on to us consumers and inconvenience to those businesses and residents that live nearby or travel through the area.

I believe that white lining could be a useful control if the utility locate industry does not exercise some self control and work to minimize the extent of the damage caused by the paint. What I learned in Houston was that the group that manages the local oversight organization is lead by responsible individuals from the utilities who, as organizations and individuals do not want more regulations.

We drafted a new regulation that required white lining and removal of all locate painting after the work was completed. Once they saw that we would pursue having those requirements made into law, changes were noticed in the extent of the painting. We also found that they and the reps for the companies that provide the locate services do not want to see the streets and sidewalks unnecessarily painted as they like the rest of us know we all have a civic responsibility to care for the public space. So, emailing photos and letting them know we care and are upset when the new locater arrives on the job, and thinks the street is his personal canvas, has so far provide sufficient limitations and the draft new ordinance has been saved–in case it is needed.

But, also very important is regularly reminding the contracting agencies and their contractors to be careful when they call in a “locate” so they limit the size of the area to be painted to only what is truly needed.

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1 Comments to “How to Reduce Utility Locate Markings”


  1. As a locator, I love seeing white lines. The contractors who white line in my city tend to be the cream of the crop. They know what they’re doing, and genuinely want to do a good job. Contractors who call in a square block when only a few square feet is needed are sloppy, uncooperative, and lazy. When I try calling them, they play dumb. White lining is hardly an “extra step” in the process. Perhaps the real solution to this Mr. Davis, is to hire known good contractors for your public jobs and require in the job spec that they white line. When low-bid is used to select a company, low-end is the result.

    You seem to be genuinely offended by the paint marks on your streets and sidewalks. Locators are at the end of the line blame-wise. The buck does indeed stop with us. There are many steps above us which create the need to use your streets as our “personal canvas”. We’re the worker bees Mr. Davis. We simply do what we’re told, with a ticking time clock on every locate request, and repercussions if we don’t prevent damage. If you don’t like the result, I suggest you look further up the food chain at the engineers who plan a job, the construction meetings with the contractors, and of course the contractors themselves.

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