Starting Tuesday, homeowners and professionals can dial 811 to arrange for utility companies to mark locations of underground lines before beginning projects ranging from tree planting to home additions.
The service will be available in at about 98 percent of the country at launch, according to Robert Kipp, president of the Common Ground Alliance, an industry coalition that the Federal Communications Commission has asked to publicize the number.
Every year almost 700,000 utility lines are hit by digging projects. This can cause disruption of service and sometimes substantial repair costs. In the case of hitting gas lines, it can also result in evacuations or even explosions, Kipp said.
Of these, about 280,000 were cases in which the digger did not use one of the 62 state and local "Call Before You Dig" centers that already exist.
"If we can put a dent into that, we'll save some costs, some inconvenience and, hopefully, maybe save a life," Kipp said.
A survey conducted last July by the alliance showed that 46 percent of the population had recently completed or planned to start a project that involved digging. Only 33 percent said someone in their household called a local number to get utility lines marked.
More recently, an April survey showed that among yard owners, 21 percent planned to dig this spring or summer. Of these, 52 percent said they were likely to have utility lines marked.
Dialing 811 will automatically route the caller to the geographically closest "Call Before You Dig" service. The utility companies will usually mark the lines within three business days, Kipp said.
The new number was created in response to the 2002 Pipeline Safety Improvement Act. AP-CS-04-30-07 1745EDT