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30 Year Old Town Utility Project Underway

Three way partnership will improve Old Town's streetscape.

When Old Town Alexandria was new town Alexandria, there were no unsightly overhead wires. Now a three decades long project is underway to make what is old new again.

The undergrounding of all overhead utilities — electrical, telephone and cable television — has begun in the 100 and 200 blocks of Duke Street, the 100 block of Wolfe Street, and the 200 and 300 blocks of South Lee Street. It is expected to be completed by October 2008, according to Lucky Stokes, chief, Construction & Inspection Division, Alexandria Transportation & Environmental Services Administration (T&ES).

"The total cost to the City for this phase of the project is estimated to be about $4.5 million — $3.9 million for infrastructure and $500,000 for a portion of the wiring. This is phase three of a 14 phases total project," Stokes explained. The ultimate cost of the entire project cannot be estimated at this time due to its length, which is scheduled to span 30 years, according to Stokes.

The City is obligated to install the conduit and perform the appropriate street restoration, while Dominion Virginia Power installs the new wiring and equipment, plus removing the overhead wires and poles, according to the City's three decade franchise agreement with the power company. Each phase entails different elements. "This is not a cookie cutter operation," said Suzanne Salva, civil engineer, Alexandria T&ES.

A total of $1,130,000 has been allocated to date for phases one and two. The City's portion of those phases has been completed for the 100 blocks of Prince, South Fairfax, and South Lee streets. Dominion Virginia completed their portion for these phases in the summer of 1994, according to T&ES.

Initiated in Fiscal Year 1992, the Old and Historic District portion of the project calls for the undergrounding of utilities within a 36 block area bounded by Union, Washington, King and Franklin streets. In each phase the City is obligated to install the conduit and perform the appropriate street restoration, while Dominion Virginia is responsible for installing the new wiring and removal of the present overhead wires and their support poles.

"Each phase has to be reevaluated due to escalating costs. Because of the length of the total project it is impossible to know what the final cost will be, but engineering and construction costs are not coming down," Salva said.

In addition to Dominion Virginia Power, both Verizon and Comcast are also part of the overall project. As provided by a franchise agreement with both of those organizations they will be reimbursed by the City for replacement of their lines, according to Stokes and Salva.

NOTICE TO PROCEED on Phase III was issued Feb. 15, 2007 and digging began in March. "We are now putting the pipes in the ground. Next the utilities will be put into these conduits," Stokes explained.

"The wiring can take up to a year or two. After that is complete we reconnect all the customers to the new underground circuits. The contractors will contact the customers when the service is about to be transferred over to alert them to any down time," Stokes said.

"Hopefully, this will be accomplished during a period of least usage such as the middle of the night. But, that's a ways off at this point," he said.

One of the reasons the project is spread over such a long period of time is due to budgeting City funds. Presently, the project is allotted $1 million every other budget year. This process started in 1991.

"This entire project has several purposes," said Richard Baier, director, T&ES. "One is to get lines underground in Old Town both for aesthetic purposes and as a safety measure and the other is to make service more reliable — particularly during adverse weather conditions."

Several locations in Phase III have wires running as close a six inches from townhouses. "This is not a safe situation," Baier emphasized.

"This project is very tedious. It involves people's homes, street parking, sidewalk areas, not to mention historic properties of which we have to be very careful," Baier said.

SUBSEQUENT PHASES and estimated time frames as presently projected are as follows:

* Phase IV: 200 & 300 blocks S. Royal St; 200 block S. Fairfax St.; 300 & 400 blocks Duke St.; and 400 block Prince St. Jan uary 2010 - December 2011

* Phase V: 200 & 300 blocks Wolfe St.; 300 block S. Fairfax St. July 2012 - June 2013.

* Phase VI: 400, 500, & 600 blocks Prince St.; 200 block S. Royal St.; and 100 block S. Pitt St. January 2014 - August 2015.

* Phase VII: 500 & 600 blocks Duke St.; 200 block of S. St. Asaph St.; 200 & 300 blocks S. Pitt St. March 2016 - October 2018.

* Phase VIII: 400,500 & 600 blocks Wilkes St.; 400 block of S. Pitt St.; 300, 500 & 600 blocks Wolfe St; 300 block S. Fairfax St.; 300 & 400 blocks S. St. Asaph St. May 2019 - August 2022.

* Phase IX: 500 & 600 blocks S. Fairfax St.; 300 block of Wilkes St.; 400 block S. Royal St.; and 400 block Wolfe St. March 2023 - October 2025.

* Phase X: 400, 500 & 600 blocks S. Lee St.; 200 block of Wilkes St.; 400 block S. Fairfax St. May 2026 - November 2017.

* Phase XI: 600 block Franklin St; 600 block Gibbon St. 600 block S. St. Asaph St. April 2027 - March 2028.

* Phase XII: 500 S. Royal St.; 400 & 500 blocks Gibbon St.; 500 & 600 blocks S. Pitt St. October 2028 - May 2030.

* Phase XIII: 400 & 500 blocks Gibbon St.; 500 block S. St. Asaph St. December 2030 - November 2031.

* Phase XIV: 600 block S. Royal St.; 300 block Gibbon St.; 600 block S. Fairfax St. June 2032 - May 2033.