Utility companies will be ordered to put new pipes and cables under pavements or grass verges to reduce the number of potholes on roads.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said rules regarding roadworks in England need updating to reduce surface damage caused when roads are regularly dug up.
Firms will not be allowed to work on pavements on both sides of a road at the same time.
Those which need access to existing services will be able to dig up roads only if they cannot gain access from the side.
Department for Transport officials believe post-roadwork repairs will cope much better with typical pavement traffic - such as buggies and wheelchairs - than with road vehicles.
Mr Grayling said potholes often appear where roads have been poorly repaired following utilities work.
"You get far fewer holes appearing in intact roads than roads that have been regularly dug up," he told The Times. "So we are going to create a default that you have to look first at laying the utilities under the pavements rather than under the roads."
Walking charity Living Streets warned that the measure would shift the problem of damaged road surfaces "onto our already cluttered and cracked pavements".
The organisation's head of policy, Tompion Platt, said: "This Government has committed to enabling more people to walk their everyday journeys.
"This policy flies in the face of that commitment and will be a particular blow to older and disabled people who are more vulnerable to trips and falls on poorly maintained footways.
"The solution to congestion is to enable people to make more of their everyday journeys on foot. Digging up footways will not do that."
The harsh winter led to one of the worst three-month periods for pothole-related breakdowns.
The proportion of call-outs caused by issues such as damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs and distorted wheels reached 2.3% between January and March, the RAC said.
Local authorities in England and Wales need £9.3 billion to bring their roads up to scratch, according to a survey by the Asphalt Industry Alliance.
Mr Grayling announced in March that councils will be given a further £100 million to tackle potholes and repair storm damage in England.