(FOX 9) - The road construction season is off to a painfully slow start for excavators who say they’ve been left waiting for one utility, CenturyLink.
“It’s been a big impact for us,” said Todd Christopher, chief operating officer for SM Hentges & Sons. “We have 25 to 30 crews in Minnesota digging everyday, and we need to know where those utilities are.”
A 1.5-mile street repaving project along Glendale Road in Savage is a month behind schedule, waiting for CenturyLink to locate its phone and fiber optic lines. On Tuesday, CenturyLink finally showed up on site after crews had severed a phone line.
The delays began April 1, the unofficial start of road construction season, when CenturyLink changed vendors for locating utility lines, from USIC, a nationwide leader in utility line location, to DirectSat, a company known best for installing satellite television systems.
Gopher State One Call, a nonprofit that schedules a utility line location meeting before digging occurs, said the backlog has become a “serious public safety issue.”
68,000 MISSED MEETINGS
Under state law, utility locators must meet with excavators or homeowners within 48 hours of a utility locate request, what is known as a “meet ticket.”
Since April 1, 68,000 tickets have not been located on time, according to Gopher State One Call. Last week alone, 10,000 tickets were left unanswered.
“If people get impatient and dig, they may be careless around gas lines, electric lines, and there may be a 911 CenturyLink line that gets cut,” said Barbara Cederberg, executive director of Gopher State One Call.
The Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety is currently investigating CenturyLink and its change of utility locate vendors. The office would not say how many CenturyLink utility lines may have been cut since April 1, citing the ongoing investigation.
“We had a perfect storm here,” said Keith Herman of North Pine Aggregate, looking over a construction site in Anoka County, where a traffic light is being installed. He said the project is a month behind schedule and CenturyLink won’t return his calls.
“We’re just trying to get done, because we have other jobs firing up, and this is pushing everything back,” said Herman.
TO DIG, OR NOT TO DIG
CenturyLink declined an on-camera interview. In a statement, a company spokesperson, Mark Molzen, said, “We are working as quickly as possible to address the current backlog. We apologize for the impact to excavators and customers.”
“We have recently had reports of damaged cables and are investigating to determine if excavators proceeded without clearance. We will be working with the Minnesota Department of Pipeline Safety to address any suspected wrongdoing,” according to the CenturyLink statement.
Many contractors are digging anyway.
“We’ve got a real issue here, CenturyLink isn’t showing up,” said Stephanie Menning, of the Minnesota Utility Contractors Association.
Menning said many excavators are taking a calculated risk. “They can start digging, and if they do, they’ll be held liable,” said Menning.
Menning believes the economic impact on contractors and excavators this construction season will be severe, with no opportunity to recoup costs.
“Now they have to reshuffle their crews. This monkey wrench has really upset the apple cart,” said Menning. She said she hopes CenturyLink would hire more utility locators to resolve the backlog.
A spokesperson for the Office of Pipeline Safety said CenturyLink could face fines of up to $1,000 per day for each incident.