Most of Sandy's utility lines and power poles will come down in the year to come, but not all of them.

That was the report given to the city of Sandy's urban renewal board Thursday, June 29, by the engineers working on the town's $1.9 million wire undergrounding and streetscape project.

'At this point we're making some very crucial design decisions,' Murray, Smith and Associates engineer David Leibbrandt told the board. 'They're exciting choices, choices that are going to make the difference.'

The undergrounding project calls for the transfer of aerial wires from Portland General Electric, Verizon, Charter Communications and Cascade Utilities underground in order to de-clutter Sandy's two-story skyline.

In all, 48 power poles will be removed from the downtown core, between Bluff Road and Ten Eyck Road on Pioneer and Proctor boulevards. An estimated 78 overhead crossings - utility lines crossing the street - will be removed from that same area.

'It will be a pretty dramatic impact,' said City Manager Scott Lazenby. 'Especially the east entrance to the city will be much cleaned up.'

Lazenby noted that because of financial and physical constraints, the city will not be able to put all aerial wires underground.

The 57,000-volt power lines above Proctor Boulevard and most of the 13,000-volt primary power lines will remain as overhead lines, including the primary lines coming from PGE's Bluff Road substation, Lazenby wrote in his official minutes of the June 29 meeting.

The high-voltage wires would require a coolant system, and in order to bury the 13,000-volt lines, underground storage space would be needed for the needed transformers and vaults.

'If we had designed downtown from scratch with a lot of transformers and such in the basements of buildings,' it would be something the city could do, Lazenby explained. He said the Bluff Road/Highway 26 intersection would 'pretty much look the same' as it does now after the undergrounding.

Despite the fact that the undergrounding project won't be a total burial, Lazenby says having the remaining utility poles on the north side of Pioneer and the south side of Proctor will actually be an asset to the town.

'Poles add some vertical definition that is not necessarily bad,' he said. 'Height is actually better' for visitors to focus in on the town.

Aesthetic accents

Without many of those pesky, thick wires in the way, visitors will be able to better fix their eyes on Sandy. The new attention will make the city's proposed streetscape improvements that much more important.

From Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ramp additions to colored pavers on the sidewalk to uniform trees throughout the city, the streetscape project aims to give downtown an aesthetic boost.

At the June 29 meeting, the board was asked to determine the price and the scope of the streetscape improvement project by selecting one of three options:

A. Make improvements only on the north side of Proctor, from Bluff Road to Ten Eyck Road. This option, roughly estimated at a cost of $3.11 million, would improve sidewalks and curbs, add trees and street lights and add street furniture - benches, bike racks, trash cans, etc. - for eight blocks, at roughly a price of $85,000 per city block.

B. Improve only the 'downtown core' area - the eight blocks on Proctor between Scales Avenue and Meinig Avenue. At an estimated cost of $2.655 million would pay for the same amenities as option A, just in a more compact area.

C. Go all out; improve the 18-block streetscape between Bluff Road and Ten Eyck Road on both Pioneer and Proctor boulevards. At the preliminary hypothetical total of $3.365 million, this choice was easily most expensive.

The board directed staff to pursue option B, with the provision that work should spread out from the core area until the urban renewal fund runs out of project money.

With option B, the city would add three single ADA ramps, four twin ADA ramps, a bus stop, 20,030 square feet of concrete walks, 5,830 square feet of concrete driveways, 25 trees and tree gates, 15 street lights, eight benches, eight trash cans and eight bike racks, among other amenities to the eight-block area, most of which would concentrate on Proctor Boulevard due to Pioneer Boulevard's narrow sidewalks.

The board also directed city staff to look into the price of using pavers and/or stamped concrete to make the downtown core area more visually pleasing to pedestrians.

'Do it right the first time,' urged Sandy Chamber of Commerce Board Member George Hoyt.

Physical and financial impacts

The $2.655 million preliminary price tag for the undergrounding/streetscape projects doesn't include design and construction engineering or the costs the utilities want to charge the city for moving their services underground. Those costs bump the total amount needed up to an estimated $3.72 million.

Even with the city's urban renewal fund of $1.5 million and its contingency fund of $400,000, the least expensive of the three proposals still comes up $1.82 million over budget.

Most of that overage can be attributed to the utilities. Charter Communications alone wants the city to pay for $900,000 of its undergrounding costs.

'They want to build their service,' said Mayor Linda Malone, noting that the cable company planned to lay fiber in anticipation of a bill in Congress that would allow them to provide additional telecommunications services. 'If they want to enhance their (infrastructure), we're not picking up that cost for them,' she said.

Lazenby said the city is confident that it will be able to stick to its $1.9 million budget after it communicates to the cable company and PGE that they are compelled by their franchise agreements to put their services underground.

'To some extent we don't care what they do,' Lazenby said. 'Their upgrade is going to be fairly expensive and on their own dime.'

To remind the utilities of their contractual obligations, the City Council likely will pass a resolution addressing the matter, he said.

Even though the city's franchise agreements require Verizon and PGE to bury their wires, the Public Utilities Commission allows the companies to recover potential losses from local rate payers - that means it shows up on the power or phone bill.

The board agreed to monitor potential rate increases, making sure that service upgrades are not included in any price hike. Board members indicated they would like to see any increase stay below $1 a month per utility. Over seven years, the surcharge would pay off the utilities' portion of the undergrounding costs.

Impact to the Sandy area wouldn't come just in the form of about $24 a year in extra utility payments; some sidewalks will be broken apart to create the trenches necessary for running new cables underground. 'We'll work with the contractors and businesses to have this done as quickly as possible,' Lazenby said.

There will also be a brief service interruption when the utilities switch from aerial wires to the underground system, he said.

While the board overwhelmingly indicated that it didn't want to tear up sidewalks and roads in front of Sandy businesses and then stick them with the bill, members generally agreed that if a business has stamped concrete or pavers enhancing its storefront, it should pay for that amenity.

Next steps

'The schedule has been drawn out,' Conrad said. 'We're still in the process of motivating the utilities, getting input from them. We need to scrutinize how much of (their costs) are for the betterment of their services.'

She said the original plan was to have coordination with the utilities complete by the end of 2005, with final design beginning in January 2006 and bidding to take place in June. Construction would have started in September, with the entire project finished in time for the 2007 Mountain Festival.

'The schedule is dependent on getting a timely response from the utilities,' Conrad said. 'There are still outstanding designs.'

After the city and the engineers get better estimates with the utilities and discuss their costs to the city, the urban review board and staff intend to gather input from business owners as far as how the streetscape should look.

The city now hopes to have its negotiations with the utilities and its final design review complete by the end of the year in order to be ready to bid in January 2007, when business is slow for most contractors. Construction on Pioneer Boulevard would begin in the spring but would be done in time for the Mountain Festival. During the festival, contractors would work on Proctor Boulevard. Work on each treet would take approximately four to five months.

After all the wires are in place underground, crews will remove overhead wires in late 2007 and early 2008.


Urban renewal 101

Urban renewal is a state-authorized program that provides cities and counties with tools to redevelop and recover communities in need of a facelift. As part of forming the urban renewal district, the city of Sandy froze the assessed property value for commercial areas in the city in 1998.

'Any growth in the value of commercial areas goes into the urban renewal district,' Lazenby said, until the city has made $5 million in improvements - initially paid with bonds.

Basically, the urban renewal district diverts funds that would normally leave the city back into redevelopment, which in turn boosts property values. Besides the undergrounding/streetscaping, the city is working on a public parking lot on the south side of Pioneer Boulevard and is negotiating with the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce to purchase and develop the chamber lot into a civic plaza.

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