- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

Paperwork and design complications have delayed until after Labor Day a massive overhaul of utility lines underneath Georgetown — believed to be one of the largest utility upgrades in the District — and vaulted the cost to more than $40 million.
Spokesmen from the three local utility companies and two D.C. government agencies said they were eager to start the three-year undertaking, but before getting the green light, some red tape had to be cleared — a memorandum of agreement.
Potomac Electric Power Co., Verizon Communications, Washington Gas, the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority and the D.C. Division of Transportation signed the agreement on Tuesday binding all parties to work cooperatively on the project.
Bill Rice, spokesman for the D.C. Transportation Division, said his agency is waiting for the project's permit applications, which he expects will be approved within a week of receiving them.
Another hitch was designing the infrastructure. Pepco General Manager Bill Gausman said crews conducted core drillings on Sunday and Monday nights to see exactly where lines were located. The manhole tunnels holding the matrix range in size between 11/2 square feet and 6 square feet.
"So, if you're off a foot, that can create a lot of headaches," Mr. Gausman said.
He expects that bids for a general contractor will go out after the project steering committee meets Monday, and that it will be finalized by Aug. 20. The contractor will serve as the primary coordinator for the work, traffic control and permits.
The utility improvements will be made along the M Street corridor from 28th Street to 35th Street, and Wisconsin Avenue from the C&O; Canal to S Street.
A $9 million street-beautification project will commence following construction along M Street from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin avenues NW and on Wisconsin Avenue NW from K Street to Reservoir Road.
Michelle Pourciau, deputy director of DCDOT, said the new streetscape will include red-brick sidewalks, trees, granite curves and old-fashioned globe lights. Signs welcoming visitors to the historic area will be posted at Pennsylvania Avenue and M Street NW and on Wisconsin Avenue NW at Reservoir Road and K Street.
Work will be performed between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. and will pause from Thanksgiving until after New Year's Day to avoid any traffic and outage nightmares. Steel plates will be laid over open holes during the day. Nightly, 35 to 40 men will work at the site.
All utilities said the cost of the project will come from capital funds, generated from customer fees. Pepco will negotiate with the Public Service Commission for a rate increase in 2004, when a customer rate freeze is lifted, if it is warranted to pay for the job.
Pepco, the ringleader for the undertaking, will spend $30 million to replace the existing circa-1960s terra-cotta conduits with new ones made of concrete and fiberglass, reinstall new cables and install two new transformer systems in the residential section.
Mr. Gausman warns that a project under the streets is complicated.
"There may be some inaccuracies. There may be some changes," he said. "Hopefully they won't delay the schedule and customers will understand."
He said an emergency plan will be made when a problem rears its ugly head, and that any planned outages will be scheduled when it's most convenient for customers.
Verizon will spend $500,000 to replace the current wood and tile conduit tunnels with PVC plastic pipe. Verizon Media Relations Manager Catherine Lewis said the company hopes this will prevent any upgrade requirements for the next five years.
"Demand on the system has increased exponentially because of faxing, telecommuting, modem traffic and broadband services. All of that has made it mandatory to upgrade," Ms. Lewis said.
The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority will spend $1.1 million to replace 40 sewer pipes — some of them 100 years old — from homes to the water mains, 20 fire hydrants, two large valves on M Street and 10 new manholes for better access.
Washington Gas will replace 15,000 feet of cast-iron pipes and low-pressure mains with plastic ones and install new valves at a cost of $4.3 million, spokesman Tim Sargeant said. He said nearly half of the pipes in its territory are post-1970s and one pipe was installed in 1893. But, he said, age is not the only criteria for replacement.
"It depends on the type of material, future load requirements, inspection and repair history and adjacent construction activities," he said.
Karyn Good, executive director of the Georgetown Business & Professional Association, said a five-year moratorium will be placed on digging up streets in the area following this project.
Miss Good said most businesses with which she is in contact have some trepidation about the project but are pleased that the utilities are addressing customer concerns.
For example, she points to Pepco's plans to lease a storefront on M Street for a project manager to field questions.
"People realize the reality of the situation," she said. "As long as they know what's going on, they should be appeased."

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