Everyone knows you wouldn’t dig right next to the base of a tree if you thought there were roots underfoot. The same intuition should govern your decisions wherever you are because modern life is so interconnected that utilities, pipes, and wires run under your feet almost anywhere you are! That means digging, even when no tree or building is nearby, can still result in striking modern roots.

And the costs can be devastating.

Ranging from an inconvenient nuisance all the way to death, excavation damage is no joke. Here are a few costs to consider and why you should start thinking about the roots that support and sustain modern life all around you.

From internet cables to electricity running through wires, clean water and sewage waste, and dangerous flammable natural gas and hazardous liquids, the ground beneath you is pulsing with far over 20 million miles of infrastructure. This unseen infrastructure nevertheless makes your life possible every day, and if a reckless digging project strikes these lines with shovels, augers, or even industrial excavators, the costs add up.

The simplest cost of digging without calling 811 is that you can hit a telecommunications line. These are the most hit-lines because they are so prolific. The result is the immediate loss of internet or other services to your house or your neighbor’s! This can cost you a whole day of work, prevent you from earning an income, create a hassle for scheduling appointments, looking up information, and more. It can also take days to get service restored when the company can come out to the site.

This same story happens every day in America and it very often impacts internet, telephone, cable television, security systems, and related service lines. But it also impacts electricity, as power lines are very often buried in neighborhoods.

While many homes and businesses have distribution lines from the electrical grid hanging down from poles on the street down into the side or top of the house, others avoid this with subsurface boxes and lines. The same issues that occur when your internet lines get cut happen when the electricity goes out – since it powers your modem/router – but also many more issues. Now you are in the dark, without wireless internet, your refrigerator and other appliances also go dark. Now you face not only productivity challenges, income loss, and frustration, but potential for food waste and sanitation concerns.

What’s more, these could be affecting you, your whole neighborhood, or even an apartment building or other multi-person dwelling or structure.

It is not hard to see how a simple digging project can create problems. Because so much of modern life is powered and supported by underground pipes, cables, and wires, these modern roots are everywhere. But the costs of severing these lines can be more than a headache – it can be lethal.

Loss of electricity, internet, and household power can impose serious costs, but none more so than the cost of a natural gas explosion. All too often, excavation work strikes a section of the over 2 million miles of natural gas distribution infrastructure delivering gas to homes and businesses. Ignitions at the source can cause immediate fires, explosions, or burns. Worse, slow, unseen leaks can fill up basements, rooms, and whole buildings, eventually leading to the destruction of an entire structure and significant casualties.

Even when this tragic outcome is thankfully avoided, the costs are not. Leaks from natural gas lines struck during excavation can result in building and neighborhood evacuations and take time to remedy. This is more lost productivity, disruption to daily lives, traffic, and more. All of this is before accounting for the repair costs themselves to fix or install new piping or wiring.

All told, the cost to the U.S. economy total over $30 billion every single year from excavation damage. This cost could even be as high as $60 billion or $100 billion depending on the estimate. These figures represent minor inconvenience and headache all the way to life-altering tragedy and loss for families and communities.

The best way to avoid these costs is to call 811 before putting any shovel or power tool in the ground. While you may think that’s unnecessary, once you start recognizing the modern roots beneath your feet and how interconnected the modern economy and society are, you won’t think twice – you’ll just call!

For more in our #ModernRootsMarch series, find us on social media.


Written by Benjamin Dierker, Director of Public Policy


The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.