ST. PARIS – Utility linemen continue to replace poles and conductor (power lines) along West U.S. Route 36 as part of a Pioneer Rural Electric Cooperative project expected to wrap up in February.
Pioneer Vice President/CCO Nanci McMaken said the project, which started in November and is expected to cost between $100,000 and $120,000, came about following the testing of utility poles in the area by a private firm.
“The recommendation was to replace a majority of the poles (approximately 40) in this area,” McMaken said. “Pioneer then made a field inspection of the conductor in the area as well, and as it was old copperweld line, we determined it was in our members’ best interest for service reliability that we take all of it down and rebuild the line.
“When we rebuild a line, we are bringing it up to the latest construction specifications and make improvements such as adding lightning arrestors and wildlife cover-up protection,” she added.
The project incorporates the following areas: West U.S. Route 36 between Country Road and Neal Road, a portion of Zimmerman Road, and four private drives.
Addressing concerns over pole locations
While a majority of the new poles along the 2-mile stretch of roadway are being installed along the same path as the previous poles, Pioneer sought and obtained Ohio Department of Transportation approval to move the poles at the curve near Zimmerman Road to inside the road right-of-way along West U.S. Route 36.
After learning of Pioneer’s decision to relocate the poles along the curve – known to locals as “Hap’s Corner” – several residents reached out to the Champaign County Commission to express their concerns with moving poles closer to the roadway in an area notorious for vehicle accidents.
The Champaign County Sheriff’s Office Division of Records reported that since 1993, there have been 19 injury and 20 non-injury crashes at the intersection of West U.S. Route 36 and Zimmerman Road, along with 50 vehicle accidents involving deer. While none of these accidents at the intersection resulted in a death, Records Clerk Evelyn Lucas said, the sheriff’s office did handle two fatal vehicle crashes on Zimmerman Road.
According to data provided by the Ohio State Highway Patrol Public Affairs Unit, the patrol responded to 18 accidents from 2010 to 2015 that took place between mileposts 8 and 9 on U.S. Route 36, which includes the Zimmerman Road intersection. Of the 18 accidents, five were injury-related (no fatalities).
McMaken said placing power lines within a road right-of-way is standard practice in the utility business, and for this project, Pioneer took measures to address this area of roadway in the event a driver were to lose control of a vehicle along the curve.
“This particular project was designed to place as many poles as possible on the inside of the curve to avoid being in the way if, unfortunately, a driver would slide off the curve due to ice or other factors,” McMaken said.
When installing new poles and conductor, McMaken added, Pioneer sets out to establish two things – “provide better electric service reliability to our member consumers and to give our crews better access in the event service restoration is necessary.”
When utility poles are placed within the road right-of-way, McMaken said, it gives linemen better access to the power lines, which is not only beneficial to customers, but also helps keep crews safe.
“Lines in road right-of-way also improve the reliability of electric service as they lessen the potential for falling trees or wildlife to make contact with the lines causing outages. When outages do occur and repair is needed, being able to use line equipment and reach the affected area reduces the length of those outages and the impact of them on our members,” she said. “When linemen are able to use bucket trucks and digger trucks to complete repairs, it can minimize or eliminate injuries, especially in inclement weather conditions.”
Weighing all the options
When it comes to installing power lines, utility providers have the option of overhead lines or underground lines. Pioneer decided that overhead lines was its best option for the West U.S. Route 36 project.
McMaken said the use of underground lines wouldn’t have kept objects from being installed near the roadway.
“For operational reasons, underground electric facilities require access boxes to be placed at some locations above ground, so all obstacles in the road right-of-way would not be eliminated,” McMaken said.
When power lines are buried, she added, it creates obstacles that make restoring electricity more difficult, leaving customers without service for longer periods.
“With underground facilities, it can take much longer to isolate the problem, excavate the location and make the repairs, again being both inconvenient and dangerous for those served by this electric service line,” McMaken said.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.