Richmond Hill City Council has agreed to work with Coastal Electric to bury overhead power lines as part of the Highway 144 widening project slated to begin next year.
The council voted unanimously to spend $420,000 on the project, which will move the lines underground from Timber Trail to Port Royal Road, a distance of about two miles.
The overall cost of the project is about $1 million. Coastal Electric will receive $165,000 from the Georgia Department of Transportation to relocate the existing power poles.
Instead of simply relocating the poles, the city and utility company will split the remaining $840,000 it will cost to bury the lines.
“The existing poles are in the current right-of-way, so the lines have to be relocated anyway,” said Chris Fettes, Coastal Electric’s vice president for engineering and operations. “This is an opportunity to do something that will increase safety, reliability and aesthetics.”
The Bryan County Board of Commissioners earlier in August rejected a similar agreement with Coastal Electric that would have buried power lines along Highway 144 from Port Royal Road to Belfast River Road, where the widening project will end. Commissioners then agreed to table the motion until their September meeting.
Because the project involves a longer distance on Highway 144 in the county — three miles —commissioners would have had to agree to pay about $603,000. For more information on the county’s decision, please see http://www.bryancountynews.com/section/101/article/50155/.
Fettes said there have been 20 vehicle incidents in the city on Highway 144 during the past year that have impacted electric service in some way due to the utility poles being struck. Burying lines underground would eliminate that problem.
Fettes also noted that thousands of customers in neighborhoods served by the lines along Highway 144 lost power for a substantial amount of time during Hurricane Matthew last year. Newer subdivisions such as WaterWays and Buckhead East lost power for relatively shorter amounts of time because they have underground utilities.
“If the lines aren’t there for the trees to fall on, during any storm, it minimizes the problem,” he said.
The project will be done in stages as the widening begins.
“GDOT is scheduled to let the bids in March 2018 and the work should begin 60 days later,” Fettes said. “It’s a 10-month schedule, which is pretty aggressive.”
Different crews from Coastal Electric will begin to dig trenches as the right-of-way is cleared, then lay conduit, run new lines through it and eventually transfer over service to the underground lines before the overhead lines and poles are dismantled.
The council approved the measure after Fettes assured them that the city’s expense would be capped at $420,000 and that any overage would be the company’s responsibility.
Fettes noted that while CenturyLink already has underground lines in the area, Comcast and Hargray Communications are in talks with Coastal Electric to also bury their service lines as part of the same project.