Community supports burying Hawthorne Avenue hydro wires

By John Dance

It’s round two of “to bury, or not to bury, that is the question”.

When Main Street was reconstructed a few years ago, the City refused to bury the hydro wires because of its policy of “requester pay,” borne of the reality that burying hydro wires is more expensive than keeping them on poles. But now, with the pending full reconstruction of Hawthorne Avenue between Colonel By Drive and Main Street, the Old Ottawa East Community Association (OOECA) is pressing the City to bury the hydro wires, just as is being done with the current reconstruction of Elgin Street.

In response to the question of whether the City is planning to bury the Hawthorne Avenue wires, Carina Duclos, Manager of Design and Construction, told The Mainstreeter, “The project design team is working closely with key stakeholders and utility agencies, including Hydro Ottawa. It is too early in the process to respond.”

“The decision to underground the wires on Elgin Street sets a prudent precedent for undergrounding the wires on Hawthorne Avenue,” says OOECA president Phyllis Odenbach Sutton. “Given these two traditional mainstreets are essentially contiguous and have similar configurations and the same narrow right-of-way width, the benefits of undergrounding hydro wires are worthy of genuine detailed analysis.”

The community association’s research, coupled with the evidence of Elgin Street, shows that the initial Hydro Ottawa estimates of the incremental cost of undergrounding have been far in excess of the actual costs. Doing the work when the streets are already being dug up for new sewer lines and water mains makes the undergrounding of wires less expensive.

Elgin Street’s undergrounding was originally estimated at approximately $8 million. But after thorough review, the detailed cost estimate came down to about $3 million, including the cost for secondary wiring connections to existing properties. And about half of the $3 million cost is being covered by Hydro Ottawa.

The Hawthorne Avenue traditional mainstreet is about 200 metres long – a fifth of the length of the Elgin Street undergrounding – so the cost of the projected work would be substantially less than what the City will incur for Elgin Street.

After City Council approved the “requester pay” policy for undergrounding, it approved the Old Ottawa East Secondary Plan that stated, “Priority will be given to burial of overhead wires along this Traditional Mainstreet [in reference to Hawthorne Avenue].”

While a similar provision was also made for the central section of Main Street, the City chose to ignore it when Main Street was reconstructed. The City’s preliminary Hawthorne Avenue design shows new hydro poles near the centre of the new south-side sidewalk and this will not result in the expected wider clear sidewalks – most especially in the winter months when sidewalk plows will not be able to manoeuvre effectively around the poles.

Councillor Shawn Menard has spoken in support of undergrounding the wires on Hawthorne Avenue and says, “There is a need to begin recognizing streetscape accessibility, design quality and beautification to a greater extent in our city. Hawthorne, as an extension of Elgin Street, makes perfect sense to have its wires buried and we will be pushing for this.”

Research by OOECA shows that in other capital cities, hydro wires are buried on central main streets, and even smaller Canadian cities like Kingston and Brockville have ensured that hydro wires do not blight their main street. The question of burying hydro wires is just one part of the design work for the rehabilitation of Greenfield Avenue, Main Street, Hawthorne Avenue and neighbouring streets.

“This work is being conducted to replace aging combined sewers with separate storm and sanitary sewers, replace sections of older watermains, and reconstruct the roadways, including the implementation of complete street features for the betterment of all road users in the community,” says Duclos.

A public information session on the $27 million project is expected to be held in late spring 2019, to present the preliminary design drawings to the public. At this time, attendees will be able to review the design, ask questions and provide comments on the proposed work. Also, a public advisory committee will be set up so residents, businesses and others can be involved in the design and construction.

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