Selectmen pass on plan to bury utility wires along Main Street

by susan on June 29, 2012

Post image for Selectmen pass on plan to bury utility wires along Main Street

Above: A rendering showing what Main Street could look like without utility lines (Contributed)

Many of you may remember there’s a project in the works to upgrade Main Street, one that will include repaving the road and widening it at some points. While selectmen approved the project design in 2010, still outstanding was the question of whether utility lines along Main Street should be buried underground while the reconstruction work was taking place.

Selectmen this week voted on the issue and decided the cost to underground the wires was just too steep.

Consultants from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, a Worcester-based engineering firm hired by the town to conduct a feasibility study, told selectmen burying utility lines along Main Street from Sears Road to Boston Road would cost a whopping $8M. Doing a smaller portion, for example the stretch in front of the Town Common, would still cost about $2.5M.

The consultants said burying the lines underground would have little functional impact. While it might mean fewer power outages for residents in the vicinity of Main Street, it would not prevent the sort of town-wide power outages we encountered last fall after Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm.

“So it’s an $8M aesthetic project?” Chairman John Rooney asked.

“In a nutshell,” replied one of the consultants.

While some small grants may be available, the consultants said most of the cost would be borne by the town since state and federal money is not available for burying utility lines. Funds could either be allocated directly by Town Meeting or raised through a surcharge on residents’ utility bills. A surcharge would also require a vote by Town Meeting.

The town will likely hold a Special Town Meeting in the fall, and selectmen briefly discussed putting an article on the warrant to let voters decide whether they want to impose a surcharge, but ultimately decided it was unlikely to pass. The surcharge would be paid by all residents, not just those on Main Street.

“(Burying the utility lines) would be a nice thing to do to improve the drive through downtown…but I’m not sure how many residents of Southville Road would vote for (a surcharge),” Selectman Bill Boland said.

The board voted unanimously to pass on the project. The decision paves the way (no pun intended) for VHB to move forward with MassDOT on engineering work for the reconstruction project.

Galligan told selectmen the next step is for MassDOT to schedule a public hearing. She told me earlier this year she hopes the hearing will be held by October.

1 EJ June 29, 2012 at 4:05 PM

I think this was the wrong decision. Above ground utility lines require long-term maintenance; tree pruning, cable and pole repair. Not to mention the potential of cars hitting poles and lines down during storms. The decision not to bury the lines isn’t just about “aesthetics”. Other towns that are doing similar road projects decided to bury the lines to eliminate long-term maintenance. Chairman John Rooney and the “consultants” should have done their homework!

2 John Boiardi June 30, 2012 at 7:39 AM

Cable and pole repair and tree pruning are the responsibility of the utilities. The $8.0 million would be the responsibility of the taxpayers ( about $1,000 per taxpayer).
You must be kiddin! The BOS made the right decision for theses economic times.

3 Elder June 30, 2012 at 1:21 PM

I agree 100% with Mr. Boiardi. EJ, how can you justify the expense when the town needs a new public safety complex, the public safety budgets are paper thin, and the schools are talking about cutting classes? To spend 8 million on burying underground utilities would be irresponsible and downright outrageous.

4 resident July 3, 2012 at 5:13 PM

How about we cut the new food service director who seems to spend money (OUR MONEY) like crazy. All the talk in both Northboro and Southboro is about portions and the raise in the cost of the lunches. Why is she not accountable to anyone on her spending (balloons?? REALLY?!?!). If you talk to any of the cafeteria ladies they are all complaining about her putting more work on them AND giving them more hours than ever before. What is SHE doing? She is another example of the rampant spending in the schools that Gobron needs to reign i. We need somebody on the school committee that will be willing to look at how to cut costs not keep spending..

5 Mark July 2, 2012 at 6:35 AM

Will it cost twice as much to do it after the downtown project is complete? Is this a window of time during construction to save a meaningful amount of money by having some foresight? I’d hate to see project completed and in 10 years from now we’re talking about a 20 million dollar project. Can we get details and vote on the scaled down 2.5 million dollar project?

6 Al Hamilton July 2, 2012 at 10:07 AM


I attended the meeting. You are correct, if we don’t do it now we will have to wait a long time (20+ years) until the street is ripped up again. It is a complex project that involves not only digging up the street but moving existing buried utilities (gas, water, storm sewers) and digging up adjoining yards and putting in new electrical services which will have to be paid for by the residents . It will also mean installing street lights since the poles will not be there.

Yes, it would look nice but this improvement will only benefit a few people and businesses in town. If they were willing to shoulder all of the $8 million or all of the cost of some smaller project through a special assessment then we might consider it. I have heard no such offer.

This improvement would probably cost each property tax payer a few hundred dollars per year in taxes if we financed it for 10 years. Personally I can think of 1000 better uses of that money either public or personal.

Let’s just let this one die and move on.

7 Mark Ford July 3, 2012 at 8:11 PM

Al et al, (always wanted to write that!),

To be clear, “Mark” is not “Mark Ford.” I agree with Al entirely on this issue–with all the reductions in service the town has had to/is about to bear, spending millions on burying wires seems silly.

8 EJ July 2, 2012 at 11:03 AM

It wasn’t too long ago when Southborough sisters Shauna and Meghan Murphy were tragically killed in a car accident on Northboro Road when their car was impaled on a telephone pole. While the pole certainly was not the cause of the accident, the downed electrical wires did prevent emergency responders to get to the girls in a timely matter that could have saved lives. Talk about money being spent responsibly, what about for safety?!?!

9 Al Hamilton July 2, 2012 at 12:42 PM

I knew Shauna and it was a tragedy. The telephone poles will have to be replaced with street lights so there will not be a big difference in road side obstacles.

Buried power lines are not without their hazards as well. While I believe they are probably safer than overhead lines there have been cases of people and their pets being electrocuted by walking over ground and manholes that were being charged by failed cables.

We are talking about $8 million to bury less than 3 miles of wire. I believe there are close to 30 miles of roads in Southborough. If we buried all the cables in town that would be something on the order of $100,000,000.00. That is more than our share of Algonquin, Trottier, Finn, and Woodward.

10 Thomas Boiani July 2, 2012 at 12:34 PM

You have to be kidding, cut the school budget, police force, and fire department to install buried lines. There are much better ways to spend money

11 Mark July 2, 2012 at 1:42 PM

Hadn’t fully considered safety aspect of it. Sounds like our leaders didn’t either, but seems if you’re doing a Main Street/downtown project, both safety and aesthetic considerations should obviously be weighed heavily. I’m sure we can’t afford it, but just wondering if you can’t do it the right way, is it worth it at all.

12 Al Hamilton July 2, 2012 at 7:35 PM


The project has been in the planning phase for over 5 years. The main purpose is to upgrade and improve Rt 30 as it passes through town. After a preliminary plan is developed the project will go on the list for State funding.

A group of citizens brought forth the idea of burying the lines that are currently on the poles. The State will not pay for this. After about 2 or 3 years of study a reasonable cost estimate was developed and it was much larger than originally expected (I believe the original guesstimate was about 1 million).

I think it is important to keep your eye on the ball. Rt 30 is in rough shape and the project will be a big improvement. I believe that the citizens who proposed this got a very fair review of their proposal and in the end it was far too expensive.

13 EJ July 2, 2012 at 7:46 PM

Not suggesting that the town buries all the street utility lines; just the areas most traveled by vehicles and pedestrians that is slated for repaving – like Main Street. The next time you travel on Main Street count how many utility poles are right on the edge of the street with no curbing – start with the most dangerous one of the corner of Main Street and Route 85. New street light posts would be set-back 4’ from the curb and would be constructed of aluminum with a “safe-folding” impact construction.
I agree; the town of Southborough has one of the highest real estate tax rates in the state with full-assessed property values. However; if we cannot afford to do this road project correctly like other towns are, perhaps we shouldn’t do it at all?!?

14 Mark July 2, 2012 at 9:03 PM

Guesstimate was ugly huh? I’m just wondering if there’s a ‘bridge’ to a better day. Either doing a portion of the utilities or even pulling in our two favorite private schools who would greatly benefit from both aesthetics and safety. I’m not holding my breath on losing the poles, just thinking its a shame that its now or the year 2032 to get another swing at the downtown we want.

15 Al Hamilton July 3, 2012 at 8:08 AM

Mark and EJ

If you really believe this project is valuable to our community then you have a very straight forward and relatively easy path to follow. Draft a warrant article (I would be happy to help you) and get the signatures of 10 voters. Make your case on the floor of Town Meeting. If you get a 2/3 majority (assuming you propose fund the project by borrowing) and then get a majority at the ballot box the project will be done, regardless of will of the BOS, Advisory or any other body.

My prediction is that this proposal will go down in flames (I will vote no), make sure you find someone to second the motion before you introduce it.

One of the greatest things about open town meeting is that any citizen can place a proposal in front of town meeting, regardless of what the powers that be think, and have it reviewed, debated, and voted on. It is your right and I suggest you use it.

16 Mark July 4, 2012 at 2:43 PM

Obviously we don’t have that kind of discretionary money. As I said I never truly thought of the safety issues, and its painful to think it will be a job half-donkeyed done from both an aesthetic and safety perspective.

17 Proud to be a Lunchlady! July 5, 2012 at 2:29 PM

To Resident,

I am a long time employee of the Northborough/Southborough school lunch program. I have worked for the School system for over fifteen years, your generalization that all lunch ladys are complaining is assuming and incorrect! You are obviously unaware that we have had a Food Service Director all along. Mrs. Locke, who has just retired after many, many years of service. Maura Feeley is a welcoming change. Our food service program needs a fresh face with fresh and exciting new ideas. The FDA guidlines slated for the school lunch program have provoked the hiring of Ms Feeley, who can meet these guidlines, excite the children in these changes and stay within a budget. Not an easy task! I believe the Superintendents office is quite aware of her decisions, budget expenses and otherwise. Really!….there so much more depth to this topic than a few balloons!!! PLEASE, don’t assume everyone thinks the same!

18 Steve July 13, 2012 at 10:30 PM

Instead of burying some electrical lines, let’s start by burying some pipes for town sewage? Now that would sure help some people with 40+ year old homes.

19 Andy July 19, 2012 at 8:46 PM

It’s too bad that it turned out to be so expensive. The renderings that have been out for so many years were so much more appealing with the buried power lines. While I am sure that Main Street will look much better after the renovation (if it ever happens in my lifetime) it would have made us a much more attractive New England town with the lines buried. I just hope I can walk up and down the road and know where the sidewalk is and where to park.

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