Digging up the street

The importance of planning and documentation to a construction project was brought home to me in a very concrete way recently when the local gas company replaced the pipe to my house. The procedure reminded me very much of cable-pulling, in that the contractor simply pushed a new plastic pipe through the old metal one, just as cable might be pulled through a conduit.

Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.,

Executive Editor

arlynp@pennwell.com

The importance of planning and documentation to a construction project was brought home to me in a very concrete way recently when the local gas company replaced the pipe to my house. The procedure reminded me very much of cable-pulling, in that the contractor simply pushed a new plastic pipe through the old metal one, just as cable might be pulled through a conduit.

First the construction-crew foreman went down to my basement and measured the distance from the corner of the house to my gas service. Then he paced off the same distance in my front yard and ran a perpendicular line to the curb, marking the spot where my gas shut-off valve was supposed to be. It turned out that the city had planted a small ornamental tree at about that spot along the curb, so the backhoe had to excavate to one side of the tree. Not finding the shut-off valve on that side, the workmen filled in the hole and dug another on the other side of the tree.

After much probing with a shovel, they determined that the valve was exactly underneath the tree. The foreman wanted to save the tree, even though his crew had cut all the roots on both sides, so he decided to replace the valve at the main running down the center of the street. The second curbside hole was filled in, and jackhammer and backhoe were used to dig up the main so the replacement shut-off valve could be installed.

I asked the foreman if the crew was going to run a second line from the hole they had just dug to the house directly opposite mine, but he said: "Oh, no, their shut-off valve is about 40 feet up the street." And indeed it was, right at the foot of my neighbor`s driveway. The crew had to dig another hole--its fourth so far--at that spot, and then a fifth hole halfway up the driveway, because the gas pipe doglegged there, and, as the foreman explained: "This plastic pipe can`t be pushed through a 90-degree angle."

As I reviewed the morning`s work from my "sidewalk supervisor`s" post on my front steps, it struck me more forcefully than a thousand interviews with cabling installers could convey just how important planning and documentation are to the cabling process. If the construction crew replacing my gas pipe had had complete and accurate documentation, it would have saved itself two holes and quite a bit of time. If the service upgrade had been better planned, two shut-off valves could have been installed in a single hole at the main, and pipes run to the two houses directly opposite one another. Then, instead of five holes and a morning`s work, the work could have been done from a single hole in an hour.

The next time someone tells me that planning and documentation take too much time and increase the cost of a job, I`m going to tell that person about the morning I spent watching the local gas company dig up the street in front of my house.

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