Our Town with William Kelly: Palm Beach powers forward with town-wide burial of utilities

William Kelly  |  Our Town  |  Utilities  |  June 21, 2022

The Town Council has approved more than $16 million to finance the next two phases of the town-wide burial of all overhead utilities.

The council on June 14 approved contracts of $8.1 million and $7.9 million with Burkhardt Construction for the undergrounding of Phase 6 South and Phase 6 North, respectively. Phase 6 North extends from Chateaux Drive and Kawama Lane northward to the south side of Plantation Road. Phase 6 South is from Seaspray Avenue northward to the south of Royal Poinciana Way.

The council approved around $700,000 to engineering consultant Kimley-Horn & Associates for construction-related services for both the north and south segments of Phase 6.

Construction should begin in September and take two years to complete, Town Engineer Patricia Strayer said.

Digging began in 2017 for the burial of all overhead power, phone and cable television lines on the island. The project was carved into 15 construction zones so it would be easier to manage.

The town says buried utilities are safer, more reliable and aesthetically superior to overhead utilities.

The town said a year ago that the project had reached an important milestone – more than 50 percent of the work had been completed, was being built or placed under contract. The entire undergrounding project is scheduled for completion in 2027.

Going forward, Strayer said, there are three more phases for which construction contracts must still be awarded: Phase 7 North, Phase 7 South and Phase 8, which is the only phase not divided into northern and southern segments.

The town is a year or more away from awarding the contracts for Phase 7 North, extending from the Palm Beach Country Club northward to the south side of List Road, and Phase 7 South, from Atlantic Avenue northward to Via Los Incas and Sanford Avenue, Strayer said.

The final phase, Phase 8, will be from Royal Poinciana Way northward to Everglade Avenue. Design of Phase 8 is 26 percent complete and on schedule, according to Strayer.

The work has been completed in several phases and is ongoing in others, according to a memo from Strayer to Mayor Danielle Moore and the council.

Phase 1 North, from the Palm Beach Inlet southward to Onondaga Avenue, was completed in March 2019.

Phase 1 South, from the southern town limit northward to Sloan’s Curve, was completed in April 2020.

Phase 2 North, from Esplanade Way southward to Ocean Terrace, was completed in October 2020.

Construction of Phase 2 South, from Sloan’s Curve northward to the intersection of South Ocean Boulevard and South County Road, is 89 percent complete. The town is working with Florida Power & Light to complete conversions from overhead to underground power. FPL should be removing poles in July, Strayer said.

Phase 3 North, from Osceola Way to the north side of La Puerta Way, was completed in September 2021.

Construction is 58 percent complete in Phase 3 South, from South Ocean Boulevard and South County Road northward to the alley south of Worth Avenue.

Construction of Phase 4 North, from the south side of La Puerta Way to the north side of List Road, is 83 percent complete.

Construction is 9 percent complete in Phase 4 South, from Peruvian Avenue to Royal Palm Way.

Phase 5 North, from Country Club Road southward to Southland Road, is 15 percent complete.

Construction is 4 percent complete in Phase 5 South. It is between South Lake Drive and Hibiscus Avenue, and between Peruvian Avenue and Royal Palm Way, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Lake Worth Lagoon.

Despite inflation, the overall undergrounding project is only 4.1 percent above the 2019 cost estimate, Strayer said. A year ago, it was 5.2 percent above the 2019 estimate, she said.

“I think we’re doing pretty darn good,” she said.

The 2019 cost estimate was roughly $128 million. But, in 2019, the town was awarded an $8.5 million FEMA grant for the undergrounding project, bringing the total cost down to around $120 million, Strayer has said.

Strayer and Public Works Director Paul Brazil have said town staff constantly looks for ways to achieve savings and works closely with contractors toward that end. The cost of construction materials and labor is rising because of conditions with the national economy, however. Brazil said he will have more information about the impact of inflation on remaining undergrounding phases on July 14, when the council holds a meeting on the fiscal 2022-23 budget proposal.

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