Subsurface Utility Exploration (SUE) is the process of vacuum excavation to expose underground utilities to determine their location, size, types, and depths to help avoid conflicts during construction.

Not far below the everyday places we walk and drive, exists a maze of utilities which carry critical components for our daily lives, carrying water, sewer, phone, and electricity to our homes and businesses. Navigating this unseen superhighway of conduits to avoid utility conflicts, delays, and service interruptions is a challenge that general contractors, utility providers, and municipalities face. Comprehensive and accurate mapping is critical for the success of their projects.

SUE is a process that uses a combination of pressurized water and high vacuum suction to remove and break up soil, rocks, and underground roots to reveal utility lines buried underneath all the debris. These utility lines can be buried anywhere from one foot deep to eight feet below the surface. Once uncovered, the size and composition of the utility pipe is recorded, photographed, and then marked with a wooden stake. The stake is labeled with the size, material type of utility and depth of the pipe for field use. Traditional survey methods are then used to locate x, y and z coordinates of the utility. Survey technicians can put this information into CADD programs for engineering design use or into a Geographic Information System (GIS) for a variety of mapping applications. After the dig is complete the hole or trench is then backfilled, and the soil is compacted back to its original condition.

Johnson Engineering began offering SUE services in the late 1990s and has continued to build upon our arsenal of resources. Our surveying and mapping team recently acquired the newest line of Vermeer’s high-capacity truck-mounted vacuum excavator. This 4-wheel drive diesel custom-built truck expands our service and efficiency. It has increased our ability to stay on site longer, with larger 2,200-gallon water supply and spoil tank capacity, as well as an increase to 3,000 psi water pressure to quickly break down compact dirt and debris. The vehicle also comes with a remote-controlled hydraulic telescoping boom to easily hold and extend the suction hose in place during excavation. The hydraulic cam-over rear door allows for storage as well as the ability to easily empty the spoil tank to restore the area to pre-existing conditions. This one-of-a-kind vehicle provides double the suction and lift power of traditional machines and is a cost-effective, efficient tool to utilize on your projects.

SUE is required by FDOT on all design projects that include underground infrastructure or earthwork excavation. Choosing the right company to quickly perform these underground investigations is vital to identify potential conflicts before they adversely affect the schedule and budget. Our team is specialty-trained, holding both state and federal certifications for quality levels A through D excavating and covering tasks, operation of heavy equipment and sign placement for gas companies. They are trained in traditional land surveying, as well as OSHA safety regulations, MOT regulations, Sunshine State One Call requirements and the other unique aspects of SUE technology. 

Having provided SUE throughout Southwest Florida for the last 20 years, we are continually searching for ways to provide our clients the most effective and efficient service. Comprehensive and accurate underground utility location and mapping of these vast and complicated networks has become a critical and essential asset to utility providers, general contractors, and municipalities alike and we have stepped up to the challenge of efficiently uncovering them. With the addition of our new SUE Vermeer system, we will continue to provide comprehensive and accurate underground utility mapping for our clients. 

For more information, contact the director of our surveying and mapping team, Matt Howard, PSM, at [email protected].