1st Ave Chronicles, Pt. 1: Phase 1 Undergrounding of Utilities to Happen

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by Ralph Nichols

Seattle City Light customers in Burien have been billed for the undergrounding of electrical lines along 1st Ave. S. for some time now.

And they’ve been asking when – or if – they’ll see utility lines, including those of Qwest and Comcast, disappear from the poles that still line the street.

Finally, more than two years after phase one of the First Avenue South Improvement Project was scheduled to be completed, the undergrounding of these utility lines is about to get underway.

Burien Public Works Director Larry Blanchard told The B-Town Blog that the last stage of the delay-plagued project, is about to go to bid.

Bids for what he calls “phase one, part two” of the project should be advertised later this month and opened in August.

Blanchard expects the process of taking overhead wiring off power poles and placing it in underground conduits between about S/SW 156th and S/SW 146th streets will be completed by mid-March 2011.

“Because the nature of this work is not subject to normal weather conditions, we should be able to continue throughout winter,” he added.

The city’s project manager for the final part of phase one is Doug LaMothe, who was not involved with any of the work done earlier.

While phase one has not been “on time” for two years, the $26.2 million project is still “on budget,” Blanchard said.

Work on phase one of the First Avenue South Improvement Project, from S/SW 162nd St. to 146th, got under way in late summer 2006, with completion scheduled for spring 2008.

Frank Coluccio was the general contractor. Gary Long was then Burien’s city manager and Stephen Clarke the city public works director.

Neither Long nor Clarke is still with the city. Coluccio was removed from the project in 2009 for not meeting the construction schedule.

Coluccio responded with a lawsuit against the city, alleging that delays resulted from underground lines that weren’t mapped by the city and failure by the city to complete preparatory work on time.

That case is currently in court.

While extreme winter weather in late 2006 and 2007 did slow work for a few weeks, final paving didn’t begin until late summer 2008 – six months after the original target for completion.

By the time Coluccio was removed, street improvements had been completed, except for traffic signals and traffic lights. But the contractor had done no undergrounding – even though conduits and vaults for this were in place.

Since then, some undergrounding has been done between S/SW 162nd and S/SW 156th streets where businesses along 1st Ave. S. have brought their utility lines under ground and connections have been made.

“We’re working closely with Seattle City Light to make the conversion to underground,” Blanchard said. “Quest and Comcast already have done some undergrounding with the work that SCL did on the south end.”

About $1.5 million of the original funding for this project phase remains. He said that should cover the remaining work – all undergrounding, street lighting, traffic signals, and traffic signal coordination.

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