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.