Aldermen approve funds for underground utilities

Utilities will run underground along the Canal Street bypass — and city officials are hoping this is the beginning of a trend.

The Board of Aldermen, during its special meeting Thursday,” March 27, unanimously approved $25,000 for installation of two splice chambers with frames and covers, a Vista switch vault with doors and associated conduits, provided by United Illuminating, in the right-of-way at 6 Bridge St. and 131 Canal St. streets.”

This work, according to Mayor Mark Lauretti, is part of an agreement between the city and UI to relocate the utility company’s overhead power lines underground on a portion of Canal Street.

“UI will supply the materials, the city will be responsible for putting the conduits in the ground,” said Lauretti. “UI will do the installation of wires. We’ll try to do some ourselves, get the contractors to do some. There will also be some sidewalk lights we’ll want to put in. It is really the time to do it, and if we do not do it, it would be foolish in my opinion.

“I don’t know what it will all cost, but this ($25,000) will be enough to get started,” added Lauretti. “Some of the city’s work will be done in-house. It will be done with overtime, that said, even with overtime rates, it will still be significantly lower than going with a contractor.”

Board of Aldermen President John Anglace asked Lauretti whether if”, considering all the significant work planned downtown, placing all utilities underground was are” part of any future work.

“It is possible, but it is also costly,” said Lauretti. “But as I said to Planning & Zoning — and I hope they heed my advice — when you knock buildings down, you have the opportunity to do underground utilities. You’re not going to get that opportunity for another 50-plus years. For us not to take advantage, would be a shame.”

Lauretti pointed out that” the whole block was coming down, from Center Street to Bridge Street, and it would be “foolish not to underground those utilities.”

The mayor cited the Marketplace development, saying he had met with the developer, its attorneys and the utilities on-site while the lot was under construction. Lauretti said he recommended using underground utilities because that opportunity would not happen again.

“They ignored me,” said Lauretti. “You drive by that now, and the quality and the look of the place is detracted by all the telephone poles there, and I just think that is wrong.”

“It was a missed opportunity,” said Anglace.

An opportunity, Lauretti said, cannot be missed again. He said that the Planning & Zoning Commission should make installation of underground utilities part of any future approval resolutions.

“If there has to be a cost share because the cost may be prohibitive for the developer, I get that, then the city will participate,” said Lauretti. “We’ll get all the stakeholders to participate so everyone shares on the cost.

“We have to seize the opportunity when it is before us,” added Lauretti. “It comes in small bites and the hope is that the next generation that is sitting up here will follow suit. A lot of things going on with downtown, but this is certainly an important one.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com