Esso station and attached convenience store will be an immediate beneficiary of the District of Houston’s project now placing utility lines underground. (Laura Blackwell photo/Houston Today)

Esso station and attached convenience store will be an immediate beneficiary of the District of Houston’s project now placing utility lines underground. (Laura Blackwell photo/Houston Today)

Work to put utility lines underground continues in Houston

District of Houston forecasts completion by end of summer

Crews working on the project to place utility lines underground along Hwy16 as it passes adjacent to the downtown core should be finished by the end of August, the District of Houston council was told in a memo contained in the agenda for its June 7 meeting.

The main contractor, Western Industrial Contractors, is expected to be finished its construction and related work by the end of this week and to have Urban Systems, the District’s consultants on the project then do a quality check.

Completion of the civil works means BC Hydro, Telus and CityWest crews can then move in to start making connections.

Removing the traditional line of utility poles and placing lines underground has figured prominently in the District’s long-standing plan to modernize and beautify the downtown core area.

Based on a timeline provided in the memo, Telus crews are to be first on the scene.

BC Hydro is readying its crews and the crown corporation is waiting to align its work for when the new Esso establishment is ready for connection so that the work can take place simultaneously.

“BC Hydro is anticipating mobilization for the first week of July, but this is subject to hcnage and availability of BC Hydro resources,” the memo for council indicated.

CityWest is waiting until the District approves of a design change but that’s not expected to affect estimated completion timelines.

Westcana Electric is the subcontractor retained by Western Industrial Contractors to install new street lighting and that’ll happen once the other parties are finished their portions of the project so that the overhead lines can be taken down.

The memo did caution that the anticipated end-of-August completion is subject to scheduling by the utility companies.

There’s also an unknown aspect of work in the area and that’s the construction of the Poulton-Butler South sidewalk which is meant to make pedestrian access much safer and more convenient.

It is not part of the undergrounding project but council decided it makes sense to build this section of sidewalk while the ground is being torn up.

Council has allocated $370,000 in this year’s capital spending plan for the work. The money comes from federal government gas tax rebates.

“The District is engaging with contractors to see if there is capacity for this work during the summer of 2022. The availability of [contractor availability] will impact if the work can be completed within the original timelines,” the memo to council indicated.

The undergrounding work is behind an original timeline laid out and became controversial when the only tender received, the one by Western Industrial Contractors for $1.6 million, was $562,000 over the forecasted amount.

Council approved by a 4-2 vote to finance the increase by transferring money from the District’s general operating surplus, putting the overall project budget at $2.347 million.

Two council members, Troy Reitsma and Tom Stringfellow, were in opposition and senior District staffers indicated that reducing the general operating surplus would limit the District’s ability to respond to any future urgent needs.

The memo to council did note that District projections have the project coming in under that budgeted amount with the new completion figure being $225,000 which is $122,000 below the $2.347 million figure.