[OPINION] A Better Way For Utility Mains And Cable Wires

We see them so often, they blend into the landscape: crews of all kinds, digging up the streets, and working on utility poles.

Alert “06880” reader Manuel Castedo sees them too. But he’s not sitting back, waiting in line for traffic to ease (or an overladen wire to fall on his head). He writes:

“On my street (Beachside Avenue), Southern Connecticut Gas just finished replacing the main.

“Now a month later, Aquarion is digging another new trench for replacing the water mains. This affects traffic to the point of having to close the street. It goes on for weeks.

“Then are the long, sloppy scars left behind on what would otherwise be smooth asphalt surfaces.

Beachside Avenue.

“In addition, cable company trucks everywhere constantly maintain their ever- expanding cables suspended from poles along the streets.

“They have grown in numbers over the years. Now the poles are under stress due to their weight. Companies are adding guy wires to secure and add stability to the poles.

“All this digging, repaving and continuous maintenance seems to be very wasteful. It cannot be the best way to do things. (Never mind the problem of power/cable outages when storms come, or trucks hit overhead sagging cabling.

“There has to be a better way.

Utility lines.

“The other day, I sent a proposal for a better approach (see email below ) to key individuals at Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, Department of Transportation, the Planning and Development Committee, State Emergency Management Commission, State Senator Ceci Maher, State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, and State Representative Norman Needleman, his counterpart in the Transportation Committee.

“I also tried sending it to the heads of Eversource, Aquarion and Southern Connecticut Gas, but could not get their emails.

Manuel noted that Aquarion’s upcoming “disruptive and expensive digging up of the streets could be an ideal opportunity to plan intelligently for the future.

“When the trench is opened, why not just drop a couple of additional empty PVC conduits that could be readily accessed in the future when the time comes to replace, or add more, electrical or cable service runs.

“These trenches are usually 2 or 3 feet wide by 6 to 7 feet deep, which is enough room to accommodate water, electrical, telecom and gas lines with the required 12-to-24-inch separation between them.

“The addition of this PVC piping would be a relatively small investment because after a street is dug up –- for whatever reason — the large cost of excavation is already factored in.  The conduit pipes would be in place for future replacement of the existing vulnerable street pole system currently in use. It would eventually result a much more resilient system, which will save thousands when the storms come or when the posts come down on their own under the weight of the cables.

Getting ready for more Aquarion work. (All photos/Manuel Castedo)

“This could be a win-win project for everyone. The utility companies could make some additional income to include the empty conduits, the power and cable companies would have less constant maintenance required by sagging cables and leaning poles, and consumers would be less prone to outages than they are now.

“Obviously, this approach to improving the infrastructure would require a system of coordination and funding that is not in place, and would need to be carefully planned so it is efficiently and easily implemented. It is extremely wasteful and shortsighted to continue with this inefficient, wasteful, labor intensive way of doing business by utility companies in the state.

“The intelligent approach to burying cabling conduits as an integral part of any street excavation or repaving should be required by the State of Connecticut in order to improve grid resilience and reduce long term costs of having to continuously dig up the streets.”

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23 responses to “[OPINION] A Better Way For Utility Mains And Cable Wires

  1. As an avid cyclist, I often enjoy the seaside ride along Beachside toward Southport and beyond. A few months ago, crews began tearing up Beachside there necessitating a less safe and less scenic detour. After several weeks, the road was reopened but the westbound lane of roadway was left scarred from Pequot to New Creek. The uneven surface left the road surface certainly more hazardous to bicyclists and less scenic to all. Then I was totally appalled a week or two ago as I headed toward Southport and I discovered that another crew was cutting up the eastbound lane behind GFA. I thought “WTF?” I was dumbstruck that another digging project was needed on the same street. To the uniformed (like myself) it just didn’t make sense. I hope that the utilities can get their act together, literally, and work to cause fewer disruptions and spend fewer of our taxer utility customer dollars. This is an extravagant wish. My shorter term hope, once the inefficient work is done, is that the town will promptly replace the entire length of Beachside and return the road to some semblance of comfortable passability (is that a word?) and pristinity (is that a word?). I think you get what I mean, and maybe agree?

  2. Daryl Styner-Presley

    This would be the intelligent & efficient method to implement a more resilient infrastructure. For some reason, government doesn’t think that way with “our” money.

  3. Just drop PVC pipe in? Nah, thats not how it works. This has been discussed so many times. The cost to move to underground utilities is tremendous, and its us the end users who would pay substantial increased prices as the cost is passed down. Not too mention, we live in areas with floods and areas with tons of rock. Many places with underground utilities were still doing repairs due to damaged underground infrastructure from hurricane Sandy nearly 10 years later and there were substantial outages over that time period as things would melt, catch fire, etc. Be careful what you wish for.

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      Thanks Josh (for saving me the trouble). I respect a person with the fortitude/clear thinking/situational awareness/common sense to run counter to the way the sheep are traveling on any given day. “If it were only that simple” is the understatement of the day.

  4. Manuel: You could try tweeting your proposal @ them-

  5. Wow, Manuel has hit a nerve with me on this subject! I moved to Connecticut 9 years ago from that beautiful but controversial state of California where all utilities are mandated to be put underground. The resulting views further not only preserve the outdoor enviroment but this policy also eliminates storm and weather damage and the physical crash damage into poles.
    I as well as many others in Connecticut think the skylines of this state in our cities, towns and suburban communities look like a trash heap with all the poles, lines and cable strung across the state by our utility and cable companies.
    Let’s face it our state and local goverments here in Connecticut have let these utility companies run roughshod over our state for far to long! The companies have used and misused the term “public benefit” far to long. These are strickly for profit Corporsations and the legislators and politicians have been used by these companies while fattening state and local coffers with their “Deals” with them for far to long. That suspect weak knee agency PURA is about as effective as a screen door in a submarine!
    Yes we need utilities and we need RESPONSIBLE companies to provide and service those utilities which we now pay handsomely for.
    The excuses given all the time as a reason for not undergrounding utilities in Connecticut are there is to much rock and lack of space for undergrouding the utilities. Bull, the water lines and gas lines are underground and they had to be placed there with all the rock!
    The answers to this aerial trash heap is pretty simple and Manuel described it well. It is called duct bank underground utility structure. This is the best system and it’s being done all over the US and many parts of the world. This conversion would be nearly impossible to do at once, but it can be accomplished gradually if it is so mandated.
    Our local representitves need to request and pressure our state representitives to take a hard stand on this issue and FORCE thru concise legislation easily borrowed from other states who have already started to and fixed the overhead utility TRASH problems!
    As for those CRY BABY utility companies who say they can’t afford it, bull again, we pay for everything they do with our utility bills every month!
    This is really a legacy issue. Let’s speak up and out to start the ball rolling and clean up the aerial utility trash for the longterm future of our comunities starting right here in Westport.

  6. Can,t help but fell for the people of Ukraine,
    Who,s infrastructure is being bombed daily
    For over a year now.

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      Utilities, HUH Good God Y’all What are they GOOD for???? (absolutely nothing). I’m going to get my own solar panels and stick it up there/their you know what!!!! (where the Sun don’t shine)
      Greta Thunberg she’s our man if she can’t do it Kerry can!!!!

  7. A voice of reason. Lets hope all are listening.

  8. Ditto Brian Strong’s comment. Mr. Castedo is a voice in the wilderness.
    As a planner, I have pondered this counter-intuitive situation for decades. Costs, liability, the lack of an organizational infrastructure to co-ordinate the growing number of utility companies with municipalities in a comprehensive plan acceptable to tax payers, land owners and public utility commissions is such a brobdingnagian task at this point in our evolution that I fear there are no imminent solutions. We may have to wait until all such transmissions can occur via satellites through the ether.
    For all we know, some of the research balloons currently attracting global attention may be a harbinger of such things to come.

  9. I can attest to this ridiculous constant barrage of trenching. A few years ago, my street was dug up for the gas company to put in a gas main. We had that “temporary final patch” for a while and then, out of the blue, the town repaved the road when they were never able to give us an estimate of when this repaving might be done. But, we have had a nicely paved road for the past 5 or 6 years now.

    Here we are a few years later, and the town NOW will dig a 4-foot deep trench right down the middle of the street to put in a sewer main. The Sewer Planning and Assessment map conducted in 2002 specifically showed that my street is not even on a LOW PRIORITY for sewers so where the heck did this project come from? DPW claims it’s some sort of “design leg” (yes, they didn’t go by street as they do for all other sewer projects, but created a “design leg” to force this sewer project on our street). So, our recently repaved street will be destroyed. I’ve lived here for 40 years and the first time the street was repaved was after the gas main installation a few years ago.

    Add to this the extremely high cost per homeowner for this sewer main. When the project was resurrected in 2020 (it was DOA when a neighbor tried to petition back in 2005), DPW “estimated” the cost/homeowner at $21000-25000. Now, that cost has gone up to an estimated $32,200. That is just an estimate, however, because according to DPW, the ‘final’ cost for each affected homeowner will not be determined until AFTER the project has been completed.

    In 2020, DPW said a homeowner could finance the assessment at about 3% for 19 years. We have not yet been told the new financing rate, but logically, it will be closer to probably 5-7%.

    None of this includes bringing sewer service to the home. It’s for a pipe in the street. And, again, there has been no mention of when the street would be repaved after the work has been completed. So, our narrow street will have a big rut running down the middle of it for years.

    Finally, the town appraises real estate within an area based on size of the lot plus size/condition of the home. Yet, this sewer main assessment will be divided equally among all affected homeowners. So, a .25acre home will be assessed the same as a home on .5acre or even more. That doesn’t seem right.

    The lack of transparency and the haphazard way that this is being conducted is egregious and will cost all taxpayers in town for the second repaving, not to mention the ridiculously high price of a sewer main on a street that the town’s OWN assessment said wasn’t even a low priority.

    Should this project go ahead (and the town management just rubber stamps whatever DPW says, it seems), I can just imagine the 80+ year old water main rupturing after from the vibration from the repeated trenching.

    Just disgusted with this whole thing when it’s not necessary, causes chaos on the street (for an unspecified period of time), and is very expensive to homeowners, especially retirees. There are other parts of town that really need sewers and better water control but not this street which is built on an old gravel pit does not, and drainage is excellent.

  10. Does Westport still use septic rather than sewer systems? If so, shouldn’t this take priority over wire lines? Sure, the concept of septic is okay, as long as it’s maintained and replaced properly, but not very 2023. The EPA is watching!

  11. Apologies to Deb Rosenfield above for already answering my question. Still, I find septic anywhere in upscale Westport surprising.

  12. This is a comment geared towards Joshua’s. When we lived on South Ocean Blvd. on Palm Beach island, the utilities were underground and a section of the land where South Palm Beach meets Manalapan was 18 inches below sea level. Both sides of the street had water all the time! It didn’t affect the underground utilities at all. Where we live now there’s underground utilities. Telephone poles should go the way of the typewriter and the public phone booths. It’s expensive to do? So what. Just get it done! You’re Westport!

    • Well I guess my residence that had underground utilities that were flooded by sandy that had blackouts for years and years after due to corroding infrastructure was just an outlier. Lol. We are talking hundreds of millions to do what you are suggesting. You think residents are willing to pay? Also don’t forget the amount of revenue that the telephone poles generate and those utilities will likely want an abatement if they have to move things underground poof there goes all that tax revenue further compounding the cost.

  13. One more comment- at that part of South Ocean Blvd., you had to walk up a slight hill to get to the ocean. How many have ever had to walk up a hill to go to the ocean? The hotel Eau Palm Beach is there. It was the former Ritz, if you’re familiar with that part of Florida.

  14. The last place I lived that had telephone poles was in Connecticut! Get out of the 1950s.

  15. I think we should start thinking and talking about utilities and the construction of them as Infrastructure. The federal government hust put in place trillions of dollars for the repair and reconstruction of our infrastructure and utility modernaztion and undergrounding should be funded by some of these trillions.
    This sad state of infrastructure of many types in Connecticut makes this state decrepid in so many forms. I 95, our many delapedated bridges and roadways, lack of railroad freight systems, a few more small regional airports and stormwater control systems put this state in many areas as an undesirable living and working area and that hurts us all.
    We need to bang the drum in the ears of our govenor, state and local representatives to get them focusing and working on securing as much of these infrastructure dollars as they can!

    • What’s mind blowing is all the investment in the Merritt parkway and i95 , including new bridges, yet no one has put in effort to add an extra lane to help with peak commuting traffic, nor even taken the simple step of converting shoulders and break down lanes to a usable lane during peak hours like many states do. Lots of money spent on “beautification ” with no true functional benefit. One has to wonder who is making money from these projects? 😉

  16. You cannot just drop PVC piping and go along. Electric (if buried) water, oil, gas, sewer, all marked out before CALL BEFORE YOU DIG (CBYD), are all at different depths. To coordinate different companies, different trades of utilities, while overlapping crews wait for one to get done and the other next…the entire road would be shutdown indefinitely.

    Not only that, but by the time the trench is dug up from being filled the day before, and they get down to where they need, and start where they started off, you are also disturbing all other utilities while one is temporarily shut off or disrupted.

    To have all utilities done at once means all have to be shut off to ensure safety to workers but also more control in the event of a failure or catastrophe.

    What is going on now, is gas was done, now water, and when they’re done, they will mill the entire road, repave it, giving it a 100 grade, with usually no further digging into the road (unless there is an emergency break).

    In a perfect world, all utilities are underground, sleeved with conduit and protected from any intrusion of weather and force. Would love to see that with electricity.

  17. Andrew sounds like you work in the utility or excavation industry. I have with my compsny in Cslifornia for many years before my retirement. Did thousands of feet of duct bank utility construction so I know the difficulties with switching these systems over.
    I think what I am talking aboit is just the aerial trash and electrical on the wood poles. I don’t think water, sewer or gss should be in that trenching. They are all existing underground utilities now and they should continue to be there just in a different area of the streets. Most residents don’t evdn know these cable and wire contractors are not even stripping or removing the old cable and wire no longer being used while they just continue to hsng new!
    I realize this is a difficult construction undertaking but when Westporters see there new overhead views and enjoy new electrical feeds made safe from storm damage and downed ttees they will be much happier. Let’s get some of that Federal infrastructure monies and make it so!

    • Lets work with some facts… the wires you are likely alluding to that remain are from a defunct entity. You cannot blame other non-related entities for not spending time and money on removing someone else’s problem. You should write your legislators and perhaps recommend that companies post bonds or something so if they go out of business the state has funds set aside to remove their abandoned property.

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