College Park officials have less than two months to decide whether hiding Route 1 utility lines underground is worth the $14 million price tag.
Last year, College Park and the State Highway Administration commissioned a study to examine the feasibility of burying the cables in conjunction with the state’s planned redesign of Route 1, which is currently in the engineering phase.
On Feb. 4, a consultant told council members it was possible, but it would be expensive and could extend the Route 1 project by about 17 months, for a total project length of up to seven years.
Councilman Patrick Wojahn (Dist. 1) said the council discussed the project as a way to add property value to the area and increase utility service reliability.
“Most modern urban areas are undergrounding the utilities,” he said. “One of our main goals in the next five to 10 years in College Park is to bring about quality economic development.”
Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich (Dist. 3) said it seems logical to plan an undergrounding project while the road is already under construction.
“We’ve been planning to rebuild Route 1 for a long time — decades,” she said. “It’s basically now or never for the undergrounding. It doesn’t make sense to do it after you rebuild the road.”
But there are some risks associated with the project, said Scott Riddle, a vice president with Sparks, Md-based KCI Technology, the engineering group that conducted the feasibility study.
The undergrounding would extend the Route 1 reconstruction project and further disrupt travel on the road, he said. The utility poles that run from Paint Branch Road to Greenbelt Road on Route 1 contain both power and cable lines, which would need to be undergrounded one at a time, Riddle said. The utility companies could also change the project cost or schedule at any time, he said.
Since Route 1 is a state highway and not a city road, College Park wouldn’t necessarily be responsible for the entire $14 million, said city Finance Director Stephen Groh, but no contributions from other stakeholders have been finalized as of Feb. 6. Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration, said the state would not fund the undergrounding, but that other entities would likely be involved.
KCI Technology identified that the cables would need to be buried under the median on Route 1, which would limit median landscaping, Riddle said. The undergrounding would also necessitate a new streetlight system, since most of the utility poles would disappear, he said.
State Sen. James Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) of College Park attended the Feb. 4 council session to urge the city to come to a decision quickly.
“You all need to decide how important this undergrounding is to the city,” Rosapepe told the council. “We want to get Route 1 rebuilt.”
Wojahn said the project price tag would be a significant cost to the city, but that he sees the undergrounding as an potentially valuable investment.
“I think the sooner that we can do the rebuild of the Route 1 corridor we’ve been seeking for so many years, the better,” he said. “But we need to make sure we do it right.”