More than three million miles of electrical cables are strung across the country and at least 180 million telephone and cable television lines coexist with above ground power lines. As a result, the aesthetics of our communities and landscapes are often overwhelmed by unsightly utility wires and accessories. Because of the benefits of undergrounding utilities, 9 out of 10 new subdivisions bury utility lines. In addition, dozens of cities have adopted comprehensive plans to bury or otherwise relocate utility lines, including San Antonio, TX; Colorado Springs, CO; New Castle, DE; Saratoga Springs, NY; Williamsburg, VA; Tacoma, WA; and Frederick, MD. Together, communities and utility companies can reduce the visual impact of utility lines and poles; saving scenic beauty, improving safety, reducing utility disruptions, and increasing property values.
Benefits of Relocating Utilities
Utility wire undergrounding and relocation projects are expensive. Communities need to convince their local officials and utility companies of the benefits of wire relocation or burial.
Aesthetics The appearance of an area can be greatly improved by reducing the visual clutter of utility wires. Undergrounding utility wires allows communities to highlight their unique beauty without a maze of poles and wires in the way. Without overhead utilities, communities can more readily undertake improvement projects such as sidewalk widening and tree planting without having to snake around poles or trim vegetation to make way for power lines.
Reduced Maintenance Falling tree limbs, high winds, and heavy snows are just a few of the things that frequently cause utility disruptions by destroying overhead lines. Burying lines eliminates weather-related power outages and provides more reliable service to subscribers.
Safety and Community Health Burying lines eliminates fire hazards, accidents, and safety risks from power outages due to downed lines. Relocation also reduces possible health risks from electromagnetic radiation and improves road safety by removing or reducing the chance of motorists striking poles.
Economic Development Many revitalization experts agree that investing in improving the appearance of traditional commercial areas is one of the best ways to attract new business and stimulate economic development. Beauty benefits business, and minimizing the visual impact of utilities can be a major strategy to beautify and revitalize an area.
Options and Strategies for Relocating Utilities
Communities seeking to reduce the visual impact of utility wires have three options: undergrounding, relocation, and reduction.
Undergrounding Wires Undergrounding is the most comprehensive and effective method of reducing the visual impact of utility wires. Undergrounding is the act of removing utility poles and burying wires and equipment in conduits or pipes. Undergrounding utility wires is common in countries famous for their scenic beauty such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and Great Britain.
The biggest challenge to undergrounding wires is the cost. Estimates for utility burial can range from $500,000 to $3 million per mile, in comparison to $120,000 per mile for the erection of overhead lines.
The cost is so high because of the expense of burying the utility wires in conduits, which is the best method of burying wires to ensure reliability and facilitate repairs. Coordinating the burial of several utility wires, such as telephone and cable television wires that also use poles, is another expense. While it is possible to bury cables directly in the ground, this technique makes it more difficult and time consuming to locate problems and make repairs.
However, communities can manage the cost of undergrounding by:
Timing the project with other utility work, such as gas or sewer line replacement;
Consolidating high voltage lines and burying only low voltage wires; or
Undergrounding only feeder lines (the lines that actually run to buildings) and hiding main lines along one side of the road.
Relocation of Wires In areas where undergrounding is not feasible or cost-effective, communities can work with utility companies to move wires and poles to less visually intrusive areas. This can include running lines along the rear of buildings or through alleyways. In more rural areas, utility companies can run lines over ridgelines and out of viewsheds, or set back poles from the right-of-way and screen them behind treelines.
Reduction of Utility Wires Screening reduces the appearance of utility poles and hides equipment such as substations, meters, and transformers. One of the easiest ways to reduce wires is to consolidate lines along one side of the roadway on a single pole and wrap them to create the appearance of only one cable.
Other strategies communities can pursue include:
Persuading utility companies to erect poles that complement their surroundings;
Using heavier cables and stronger poles to reduce the number of poles required;
Planting trees, shrubs, and other vegetation around substations and transformers to make them less intrusive; and
Raising wires above sight lines along buildings and signs to make them less noticeable.
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