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MORRISTOWN, N.J.—The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration presented its 2006 Utility Outstanding Achievement Award to Frank Huber, P.E., senior technical specialist at Edwards and Kelcey, for his work on the New Jersey Route 21 reconstruction project in Newark. The award, which recognizes "Exceptional Accomplishment in the Category of Utility Relocation," cites Huber’s innovative approach to subsurface work performed during the nearly $100 million Route 21 reconstruction of a 2.2 mile stretch of the highway that runs through the heart of Newark’s business district. Redesigning the roadway required relocating and improving much of its labyrinth of underground utilities, including layers of electric, water, gas, telephone, fiber optic communications, and combined sewer lines. That system involves approximately 250,000 linear feet of utilities that have been installed cumulatively since the 1800s. Complicating matters was the fact that, in a city more than 300 years old, the likelihood of encountering unrecorded subsurface non-utility objects was great. In fact, the presence of rocks, debris, and structures such as unmapped cellar extensions made installing new lines difficult.

To avoid costly project delays during relocation efforts, Huber developed a technique called test excavation. The process entails removing selected sections of pavement and the ground beneath it where utilities are to be installed. If obstructions are discovered and determined to be immovable, the engineer redesigns the alignment of pipes and conduits to avoid the obstructions before the utilities are installed. Huber credits the test-excavation process as the reason the project has been completed on schedule.