The District of Houston’s project to place utility lines underground along Hwy16 in the downtown core is proving to be more complicated than first thought, council heard in a report presented at its Aug. 17 meeting.
Organizing the work schedules of the various utilities whose lines are being placed underground and waiting for required approvals and permits could affect completion timing, a report from Urban Systems, the District’s project management company indicated.
Western Industrial Contractors (WIC) has the main contract for the work but BC Hydro and Telus are also actively involved as their poles need to be taken down as running the lines underground proceeds.
And CityWest also has lines to be placed underground and because this involves Hwy16, the provincial transportation ministry has a stake in what’s going on.
Jared Halter from Urban Systems noted, for example, that WIC has made plans for one phase of the project, drilling under Hwy16 at several locations to then run electrical conduit underneath the surface with those plans now awaiting BC Hydro approval.
“Once approved by BC Hydro they will be submitted to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) for their approval. Once approved by both BC Hydro and MOTI, WIC can complete the directional drill installations,” said Halter in estimating that while physical work will take one week it’s not known how long it will take to receive the required approvals.
“Schedules are difficult to predict accurately as timelines for permitting and approvals are unknown, as well as the schedules of the utility companies,” Halter said in summarizing the situation.
A meeting this week of the main players is taking place to further iron out scheduling.
So far, Halter added, the project budget is holding together save for needing to spend $36,000 on having to cross gas lines, something that was not expected, and needing to order materials.
Placing utility lines underground is a key part of the District’s longterm plan to make the downtown area of the community more attractive and was planned in conjunction with another major project, replacing underground civic works along 9th followed by a wholesale new look for 9th.
But the utility lines project became more expensive than first contemplated and is now in the range of $2.1 million.
The District shelved the project last year when costs came in over budget projections and when costs came in over budget projections again this year, council dipped into District’s operating surplus to close the financing gap.
The current cost is roughly double what the District had first anticipated when it began planning the project several years ago.
Along with placing utility lines underground so as to improve the visual appeal of the downtown area, there will be new street lighting.
Senior District staffers did advise against proceeding with the project, noting that using the District’s surplus to help pay for it weakened the District’s overall financial situation.