Local public right of way for surface and subsurface resource integration

Terri Matthews, Debra F. Laefer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A utilidor is a ‘system of systems’ infrastructural solution to the ‘subsurface spaghetti’ problem resulting from direct burial of utility transmission infrastructure beneath the public right of way (PROW). The transition from direct burial to utilidors in older, dense American cities has generally not occurred, despite the potential to increase system performance in a long-term, financially and environmentally sustainable manner, because it would require reform of local planning practices and of utility pricing to support financing within a complex regulatory system. Utilidor adoption in New York City (NYC) would be a significant local infrastructure transition, amplifying the need for locality-based research, that would occur while each utility sector undergoes its own infrastructure transitions, thereby increasing the level of regulatory complexity. This paper applies transitions analysis, recursive collective action theory, and capacity to act analysis to NYC’s experience with its PROW subsurface spaghetti problem and utilidor implementation to demonstrate a place-based methodology that identifies specific sources of resistance to innovative subsurface design and feasible pathways for resolving them. This methodology would be transferable for application to other American cities or classes of American cities to supplement the limits of generalised subsurface and subsurface resource integration research for practitioner application.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-327
Number of pages19
JournalCivil Engineering and Environmental Systems
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022


  • Recursive collective action
  • Transitions analysis
  • Utilidor
  • capacity to act
  • infrastructure transition
  • subsurface planning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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