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Chapter 4: Utility Relocation and Accommodation

General Observations

In Australia, states normally reimburse utility interests for the relocation of utility facilities (but not for betterments). Historically, most utility owners and operators have been government entities. As a result, it does not really matter who pays for relocation because funding for it comes from the same source. For simplicity, the policy is that the agency responsible for the transportation project that causes the need for the relocation is also responsible for the utility relocation costs. In recent years, the Australian utility industry has undergone deregulation, with a large percentage of utility interests now in private hands. However, the policy for reimbursing utility relocations continues.

In Canada, reimbursing utility relocation costs is not as common or to the same degree as in Australia. For example, MTO in Ontario reimburses 50 percent of direct utility relocation costs. MTO does not reimburse engineering costs, except in cases in which MTO cancels or postpones the project or a highway design is changed after the original request for relocation. In Alberta, utility companies are generally responsible for utility relocation costs, with the exception of pipelines and low-pressure gas lines.

Laws and regulations at the state level govern the accommodation of most utilities on road reserves in Australia. The exception is telecommunications, which are governed by federal legislation. In general, the federal legislation is weak on the power given to the agencies responsible for the road reserves to regulate the accommodation of telecommunication facilities. As a result, telecommunication providers in most cases do not notify or even consult with the state agencies on the best location for and other characteristics of their proposed installations. State transportation officials indicated that this weakness in federal legislation limits their ability to manage the road reserve effectively.

In Australia, several states are exploring a variety of multilevel MOUs and agreements with utilities to facilitate the cooperation and coordination process. A multilevel MOU structure typically includes a high-level MOU that sets forth general principles and the intent of both parties to work cooperatively, attachments and other agreements that cover specific topics of interest to both parties, and contract-level details and specific provisions that the higher-level MOU does not address.

Agreements and Cooperation With Utilities

In Australia, several states are exploring a variety of MOUs and agreements with utilities to facilitate the cooperation and coordination process. In a typical situation, a high-level MOU sets forth general principles and the intent of both parties to work cooperatively. This MOU is normally signed by parties at the executive director level. To ensure the MOU is a living document, it may include attachments and other agreements that discuss specific issues, such as standards, specifications, and general procedures for resolving conflicts. Typically, technical personnel from both organizations prepare these documents. There might also be contract-level details and specific provisions that the higher-level MOU, attachments, or agreements do not address.

The multilevel MOU concept is also used in the United States. However, the scan team's impression is that Australian MOUs are more elaborate and stringent than those in the United States. Utility accommodation policies or rules at the State level govern the accommodation of utilities on the State right-of-way in the United States, but a similar concept does not appear to exist in Australia (which could explain in part the need for more comprehensive MOUs). Nonetheless, the study team noticed several advantages in the Australian MOU concept worth considering for implementation in the United States.

Australia—New South Wales

RTA and the Sydney Water Corporation entered into an MOU to establish a framework that covers issues such as cost distribution, information sharing, strategic planning, project management, and dispute resolution.(47) The agreement also includes case study scenarios that describe typical situations and provide additional information such as agreement and cost distribution. RTA is also working on a similar MOU with Energy Australia.

The NSW Streets Opening Conference is a voluntary association of member organizations that serves as a focal point for discussing common transportation and utility issues. The organization started in Sydney in 1909 as the Sydney Streets Opening Conference and in 1995 became the NSW Streets Opening Conference. The association's objectives include establishing roadside allocations and recommended practices for providing utility services; fostering coordination; encouraging the use of agreed-on codes and practices for excavation, backfilling, and roadway reconstruction; and minimizing the impact of excavations. Members include utility owners, local government and road authorities, light rail operators, other government agencies, consultants, and other groups interested in utility issues.

Over the years, the NSW Streets Opening Conference has undertaken major initiatives, such as the following:

Dial Before You Dig is a referral system for information on underground utility installations. It is a voluntary national organization with members from all states and territories. It is similar to utility one-call centers in the United States, with two major differences. First, membership includes not just utility owners and operators, but also transportation agencies and railroads (under the premise that these agencies can also provide information on assets they own to parties that request it). Second, Dial Before You Dig encourages the use of their services earlier in the project development process than is customary in the United States.


Main Roads has two MOUs in place,(51) one with a major electric utility (Energex) and one with a major telecommunication utility (Telstra). Two more MOUs are under development.

In the case of Energex, the MOU structure responded to the need to address issues in two general categories:

Officials from Main Roads and Energex outlined and prioritized issues to resolve according to their complexity and expected solution benefits. Some issues were related to the need for better communication and coordination between the two agencies (e.g., in relation to work sequencing, relocation timing, utility relocation costs, utility pole location details, information sharing, strategic utility plant locations within the road corridor to minimize future conflicts and utility relocation costs, and underground versus overhead installations). Main Roads and Energex resolved these issues through agreed-on outcomes, which were signed by either the chief executive officers of both organizations or a steering committee and then implemented in their working operations.

A working group from Main Roads and Energex is now working on a second level of priorities, including the following:

Figure 16. Two photos of power poles with preliminary estimates (in Australian dollars) for the relocation: 11-kilovolt pole with underground cable attached ($25,000, depending on underground cable relocation cost) and 11-kilovolt pole with high-voltage switching device attached ($28,000, no credit on external plant).
Figure 16. Preliminary estimates (in Australian dollars) for the relocation of power poles at Energex.

In the case of Telstra, the MOU structure responded to the need to address issues on asset protection and access to the road reserve.(51) To address the first issue, both agencies developed a new process whereby Telstra plays a more proactive role helping Main Roads protect existing telecommunications assets that might be in conflict with proposed roadway work (figure 17).

Under the federal Telecommunications Act 1997,(52) telecommunication carriers have extensive powers to access the road reserve, which can cause considerable difficulties for Main Roads, particularly in situations in which a road is due for future upgrading. A land access agreement similar to that subscribed with Energex describes technical requirements for Telstra document submissions to enable Main Roads to review the documentation and reply to Telstra within the time frame required under the Telecommunications Act (10 business days).(51)

Australia—South Australia

In South Australia, DTEI controls the road from curb to curb, while local councils control the roadside. This arrangement imposes a number of challenges on the relationship between DTEI and the utility industry. For example, although DTEI has some regulatory power and has the ability to issue permits, DTEI's effective regulatory power is limited. In addition, because of deregulation and privatization, the utility industry tends to be more driven by the bottom line and less willing to work cooperatively with DTEI. Nonetheless, utility providers try to comply with DTEI requirements because they know they may need to deal with DTEI during roadway construction projects.

Over the past 10 years, DTEI has developed standards for excavation and backfills. In the past, DTEI was able to conduct inspections, but now this process is frequently not feasible. In its place, DTEI has implemented a 1-year warranty period for excavation and backfills, which appears to work well.

Utility relocations in metropolitan areas can be very expensive. According to DTEI officials, utility relocation in urban areas can be close to 20 percent of the total project cost.

DTEI is participating in a long-term initiative to convert power lines from overhead to underground. This initiative is coordinated by the Power Line Environment Committee (PLEC), which includes eight members that represent a wide spectrum of interests, including transportation, local governments, electric utilities, tourism, conservation, and the community.(53,54) For PLEC projects, DTEI provides funds for street lighting, project coordination, and tree planting. The remaining costs are shared by the local councils (two-thirds) and the electric utilities (one-third).


In Victoria, VicRoads is responsible for the road from curb to curb, while local councils control the roadside. The Road Management Act 2004 established the division of roles more clearly.(28) No state legislation covers utility accommodation and relocation issues for road projects other than the Road Management Act 2004. This situation makes it necessary for the various parties to negotiate. Project-specific pieces of legislation (e.g., the CityLink Project and the EastLink Project) include provisions for utility relocation responsibilities, costs, minimization of disruption to utility services, and dispute resolution.

As required in the Road Management Act 2004, the Code of Practice for Management of Infrastructure in Road Reserves(55) provides guidance to road authorities, utilities, and public transportation providers on planning and managing their infrastructure in road reserves (figure 18, see page 36). More specifically, the code of practice supports road authorities and utilities in providing essential services to the public, provides guidance to ensure projects give priority to public transportation, provides guidance on collaboration between road authorities and utilities to minimize the total cost to the community, and provides guidance to road authorities on coordinating the installation of nonroad infrastructure on roads. For example, the code indicates that when considering options for positioning utility infrastructure, the cost analysis should take into consideration the total cost to the community of providing both road and utility infrastructure. Likewise, in the case of utility attachments to bridges and other road structures, the code recommends that the parties enter into a commercial agreement covering relevant terms and conditions, such as engineering evaluations, access for maintenance, indemnity for damage, attachment costs, and responsibility for relocation costs.

The code of practice also states that any proposed work affecting the road environment must have the consent of the coordinating road authority. In particular, the code of practice requires utilities to prepare a risk management plan that includes elements such as the following:

Specific risk areas to cover in the analysis include the following:

Click image to enlargeDiagram of the interaction between the Department of Main Roads and Telstra during the project development process.
Figure 17. Interaction between Main Roads and Telstra during the project development process. (51)
(Courtesy of Main Roads)

Government and Corporate Strategic Process

Click image to enlargeDiagram of the framework of the Code of Practice for Management of Infrastructure in Road Reserves in Victoria.
Figure 18. Framework of the Code of Practice for Management of Infrastructure in Road Reserves in Victoria.(55)

In the case of road projects that might affect utility infrastructure, the code of practice requires the road authority to carry out a risk management plan similar to that required for utilities. In this case, the risk areas to address include the following:

The code of practice includes requirements for both utilities and road authorities to maintain records of their entire infrastructure within the road reserve, particularly underground infrastructure, in geographic coordinates (Map Grid of Australia 1994), together with the best information available on vertical location. The code also recommends using the Dial Before You Dig referral service as a mechanism to share information. A utility that is not a member of Dial Before You Dig needs to advise the coordinating road authority how it plans to make information available on the location of its infrastructure to those who intend to carry out excavations in the road reserve.

The Road Management Act 2004 included provisions for implementing an Infrastructure Reference Panel to advise the Victorian government on issues related to the use of the road reserve by utilities. The Infrastructure Reference Panel is composed of 15 members representing various utilities and services, VicRoads, public transportation, and local governments. The panel provides advice in a number of areas, including coordination of utilities and other road reserve users, effectiveness of relevant codes of practice, and rulemaking. The panel also acts as a vehicle for consultation on the use of the road reserve by utilities and other stakeholders.


Electric companies have model agreements with Alberta Transportation that apply to all present and future projects. Other utilities such as pipelines, telecommunication facilities, water, and sewer are required to sign projectlevel agreements. Typically, the contract includes a master agreement that addresses general provisions and a permit that includes detailed technical requirements such as required cover depths. Utilities also must submit a traffic control plan. Right-of-way access is free, but if a utility facility is located in the road right-of-way as part of a roadway project, the utility company is responsible for relocation costs (except in the case of pipelines and low-pressure gas lines, which Alberta Transportation absorbs). Outside the right-of-way, the department is responsible for utility relocation costs.

The Calgary RDA(38) and the Edmonton RDA(39) include a TUC designation,(40) which formalizes the accommodation of utilities along prespecified corridors. As figure 13 shows, a typical TUC cross section may include primary uses (i.e., roads, major utilities, and municipal services), secondary uses (e.g., reestablished agricultural use, parking, and limited recreation activities), and original uses (e.g., agricultural leases, original farmsteads, and sand and gravel mining). Perceived benefits of the TUCs include the following:

Alberta Infrastructure manages provincial Crown lands within the TUCs. The agency grants a variety of authorizations, including leases, licenses, utility rights-of-way, rights of entry, and ministerial consents.(40) Typically, utility rights-of-way are granted for the construction and maintenance of primary-use utilities. Because the use must be consistent with the long-term planning for primary uses within the TUC, utility rights-of-way are considered permanent. Alberta Infrastructure requires grantees to develop a survey plan for their facilities within the TUC, register both the utility right-of-way agreement and the survey plan with the Land Titles Office, and submit a certificate of compliance with this activity. Depending on the type of project, type of agency involved, and authorizations required, one or more of the following fees apply for projects within TUCs: lease rent, compensation fee, administration fee, and refundable financial security. In general, the plan includes access points (not from freeway lanes) for the construction and maintenance of facilities within TUCs.


MTO developed a guideline document to provide a consistent approach for dealing with major utility companies (i.e., Bell Canada, Hydro One, Enbridge Gas, and Union Gas).(56) The document outlines major utility coordination activities during the roadway project preliminary design and design phases, as well as a detailed schedule of milestones, deliverables, and letters to stakeholders. During the preliminary design phase, an MTO consultant describes the project to each affected utility company and requests information such as confirmation of the primary owner, type of plant, approximate location, awareness of other utilities, and personnel assigned to the project. With this information, the consultant identifies the location of utilities in sufficient detail, as well as the location of potential utility conflicts, to support preliminary design recommendations. At the end of this phase, MTO sends a copy of the consultant's report to the utility companies for budgeting and scheduling purposes.

During the design phase, MTO notifies utility companies of the selection of the consultant retained to complete the detailed design. The consultant's responsibilities include verifying all existing and proposed utility information (including the use of test holes, if needed), preparing utility markups for the entire project (which includes a confirmation from the affected utility companies along with a proposed relocation strategy), determining the most cost-effective relocation strategy, and developing a utility relocation plan for each affected utility. With this information, MTO requests a detailed cost estimate and relocation schedule from each utility. If MTO agrees, it issues a "Moving of Utilities, Financial Breakdown" document, which enables the utility company to proceed with the relocation. When relocation is finished, the utility company must provide a written confirmation of completion in accordance with the approved relocation plan. If the utility company fails to meet the completion date, it must provide a written explanation of why the completion was not met.

Forwarding the consultant's report to utility companies at the end of the preliminary design phase is important because utility companies often request a 1-year notice for larger projects to set up budgets and minimize negative impacts such as relocations during winter. Some utility companies have standardized relocation procedures. For example, the following are Hydro One guidelines:(57)

The MTO Corridor Control and Permit Procedures Manual(46) provides guidance on installations initiated by utility companies. In addition to general requirements that pertain to all new utility installations, the manual includes specific templates for agreements that MTO has developed with electric, telephone, coaxial cable, and oil and gas utilities.

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Page last modified on November 7, 2014.
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