Work begins on ‘undergrounding’ utility lines along Alamitos Avenue in Long Beach

Sean Belk/Signal Tribune<br><strong> Crews work along a section of Alamitos Avenue between 7th and 10th streets on an $8-million project commissioned by Southern California Edison to run utility lines underground. </strong>
Sean Belk
Staff Writer

Construction crews for Southern California Edison (SCE) have begun work on a project to move all overhead utility lines along Alamitos Avenue between 7th Street and Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach underground.
The process, known as “undergrounding,” involves running all electricity, Internet, telephone and cable-television transmission lines underneath the street rather than having them hang overhead from utility poles.
The lead agency, SCE, is working with Verizon and Charter Communications on the nearly $8-million project funded through utility-user fees charged to ratepayers through a portion of their utility bills, said Sarah Price, capital project coordinator for the Long Beach Public Works Department. The funding was collected from all of SCE’s ratepayers, not just those in the impacted area, through the Rule 20A program of the California Public Utilities Commission, which governs all undergrounding projects in the state.
Last week, SCE began work on the initial phase of the project, which involves trenching for main lines where the company will run the utilities underneath the street. Price said all street work will be completed in six to eight months.
The second phase of the project that will be done parallel to the first phase involves connecting the utility lines from the street to residents and businesses. The second phase, however, may take longer, about one to two years, since there would be more interaction with consumers to access property, she said.
In a statement, city officials said that during the street work “traffic controls will be in place to provide safety for motorists and workers.” At least one lane in each direction will be open at all times, but there will be lane closures of specific blocks as work progresses and traffic delays are expected.
Parking and access for some driveways may be impacted during construction hours, which are from 7:30am to 4:30pm on weekdays. Public works officials said motorists, pedestrians and cyclists are encouraged to use alternative routes when possible.
Price said the project was contracted out solely by SCE and the City of Long Beach is merely acting as the liaison for the project. She said all work within the public right-of-way has to receive administrative approval for a public works excavation permit.
SCE has done about one undergrounding project every three to four years, Price said, adding that the south portion of Alamitos Avenue has already been completed.
She said putting utility lines underground improves the visual appearance of street corridors and improves safety since drivers would no longer run the risk of crashing into utility poles, causing power outages. Having no utility poles also cuts down on utility companies having to deal with trees, Price said.
Long Beach city officials lauded the project in a statement sent out in anticipation of a community information session held last month at Ernest McBride Park’s community center.
Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster said the project will provide several benefits to the community. “Placing utility lines underground lowers tree-trimming costs, improves reliability from system upgrades during the undergrounding process, lowers the number of motor vehicle accidents involving striking utility poles, reduces the risk of live-wire contact injuries, and improves aesthetics and property values,” he said.
The criteria for selecting areas for undergrounding utilities include “traffic volumes and the amount of overhead electrical facilities in the area,” and the undergrounding projects must “provide a benefit to the general public, not just customers in the impacted area,” according to city staff. Updated project information will be posted periodically on the City’s public works website at longbeach.gov/pw/engineering/utility_undergrounding_projects .

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