Dry Utilities – Never a Dry Moment

March 20, 2018

Dry Utilities – Never a Dry Moment

In real estate development location is king. The development and redevelopment of urban real estate is currently booming; between 2001-August 2016 there has been approximately 159.9 Million square feet of development in the District of Columbia alone at an estimated value of 49.7 billion dollars’. Public space is a finite realm where public utilities, streetlights, street trees, vehicular and pedestrian traffic must coexist. As urban sites continue to redevelop, the space available in the public right-of-way continues to shrink. The utilities that once served a building can now quickly become an eye sore or even a liability during development of a site. Some of the most desirable sites for redevelopment are in established neighborhoods that have overcrowded public space loaded with potential conflicts to future site plans.

When evaluating existing facilities at a future development it is important to identify all potential conflicts associated with the proposed site. Utility poles are a great example of an overlooked conflict, because not all utility poles are made the same. For example, in the Maryland, Virginia, and the District there are several different entities that can own a utility pole. In Maryland and the District, the most common owner is Pepco, but there are situations where the telecom company or even the city or jurisdiction itself can own the utility pole. Identifying the type of pole and what entity is responsible for maintenance is the first step to solving potential conflicts.

Different facilities on the utility poles will present different challenges to your development project. A utility pole can have primary electric, secondary electric, copper communication, and fiber optic cables facilities attached to the pole, along with public streetlights. The more entities attached to the pole, the more elaborate coordination would be required to solving potential utility pole conflicts. For example, in an urban setting some projects are built to the property line to maximize square footage, this can be a conflict in areas where there are overhead primary electric cables. There are requirements set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for construction activities to be a set distance away from overhead high voltage cables depending on the voltage of the cables.

Another challenge when relocating utility poles that have power and/or communication lines, is that all existing services being fed by the facilities located on the pole(s) must have uninterrupted service. Relocating these facilities needs to happen in a staged approach that can often take several months to coordinate and construct. During a development in a District downtown alley an existing warehouse building had telecom facilities structurally supported by its exterior wall. The project called for the existing warehouse structure to be demolished and to construct townhouses in its place. After further examination of the existing facilities not only did the warehouse have cablings attached to the building structure but it also had them running through the interior to serve adjacent properties. Even though there was no formal easement for the cabling serving adjacent properties, the project had to relocate the facilities without effecting the dozens of accounts that were being serviced.

When it comes to public space utilities it is best to be proactive in evaluating potential conflicts with future site construction. With a dry utility due diligence study, many of these conflicts can be identified in the early design phase of the project. The developer can then make an informed decision to either avoid the conflict through the design or budget and schedule for facility relocation.

Author Michael A. Blanco, PE, LEED Green Associate is a licensed Professional Engineer with AMT, LLC, where he focuses on dry utility engineering and consulting. He has contributed to utility design and coordination in the Washington DC metro area for the past 10 years, working on institutional, mixed use, residential, and streetscape projects. 

One response to “Dry Utilities – Never a Dry Moment”

  1. Veronica Henry says:

    What an insightful report. I am so pleased to learn there are professionals in the field who are invested in resolving this situation. Thank you!

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