Washington, D.C, April 20, 2022 — The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) on Wednesday released its newest report, Excavation Damage to Underground Infrastructure: A Look at the Federal Damage Prevention Approach. The report looks at the federal role in limiting and preventing excavation damage and encourages Congress and federal agencies to incorporate technology and higher standards into their damage prevention efforts.

Every project that involves digging puts the millions of miles of underground pipes, cables, and wires at risk, and it is estimated that digging inflicts around $30 billion in economic harm every year. With experts expecting this figure to rise, it is imperative to safeguard these critical components of infrastructure. Moreover, the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will pour billions of new dollars into the construction sector, leading to even more groundbreaking and higher damage numbers over the next decade.

The responsibility of protecting these underground utilities is primarily delegated to state and local jurisdictions. With damage incidents on the rise nationwide, Aii looks at the role of the federal government – specifically the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) – in protecting underground infrastructure.

PHMSA is the chief damage prevention authority in the country, but only oversees around 10 percent of all underground infrastructure. While its work protecting pipelines has been effective, damage trends are rising for all other buried utilities. This report explores how PHMSA can directly oversee and regulate pipeline safety, but is limited in its ability to protect other subsurface infrastructure like electrical lines, telecom, water, and other utilities. It is time to ensure the research, grants, and other enforcement programs PHMSA oversees are best calibrated to improve state damage prevention programs, incorporate technology, and protect all underground infrastructure.

“PHMSA has a difficult task and has made significant progress in reducing excavation damage to pipelines,” said Aii Director of Public Policy, Benjamin Dierker. “With damage trends moving in the wrong direction, there is ample opportunity for PHMSA flex its leadership in damage prevention, align its programs and grants toward nationwide implementation of innovative technologies, and hold states and stakeholders to higher standards going forward.”

The federal government has a role in damage prevention through oversight, but by adding infrastructure spending into the construction sector, Congress has also added upward pressure on existing excavation damage trends. It is now incumbent on Congress and PHMSA to reexamine their authority, jurisdiction, and priorities to ensure they mitigate those damages, protect pipelines, and reverse the multi-year, nationwide rising trend in damage to underground infrastructure.


Read an overview brief on federal damage prevention.

Click here to read the latest report.

To learn more about the Aii and our infrastructure work, visit Aii.org.




About the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure

The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization dedicated to identifying our nation’s infrastructure needs, creating awareness of those needs, and finding solutions to critical public policy challenges. Aii strives to promote proven, innovative technology and higher safety standards in a non-partisan manner to achieve excellence nationwide. The Alliance is a think tank consisting of two non-profits: the National Infrastructure Safety Foundation (NISF) 501(c)(4) and the Public Institute for Facility Safety (PIFS) 501(c)(3). (Aii.org)