- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2000

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams Thursday imposed higher fees and strict standards on utility companies that dig up roads, saying he is fed up with the sorry condition of city streets.

"Not one more saw hits the pavement until those holes are patched," said Mr. Williams, who gave utility companies working downtown two weeks to put permanent patches on all finished work.

However, the mayor did not mention potholes, although residents report they are still a problem.

"We still have lots of potholes over here in Southeast and we are wondering why the city isn't rushing over here to fix them," said Sheila Carson-Carr, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 7.

Currently, utilities pay only a $24 permit fee to dig up the streets. Soon, they will have to deposit $100 per square yard for any dig larger than five square yards. The money will not be returned to the company unless the job is completed on time and to city standards.

"Cutting the streets in our city is a privilege, not a right," Mr. Williams said. "You are not entitled to cut up our streets whenever you want, however you want. Utilities will have to live up to a new standard: If they don't comply, they will lose their permit."

Mr. Williams plans to draft legislation soon to formalize a host of new regulations, including a stipulation that streets where permanent repairs have been made cannot be dug up again for five years, except in an emergency.

"Our eventual goal is to recover the cost of the reduction in the useful life of the roads," said Dan Tangherlini, who was named acting transportation director Thursday by the mayor.

"That's what we're going after. The $24 fee barely covers the cost of keeping the door open at the permit office," he said.

Mr. Tangherlini said city officials do not yet have an estimate on the long-term cost of the road work that has been flourishing in the city lately. Officials reported 483 active road-cut projects in the downtown business area, and 1,700 active sites citywide.

Last week, Department of Public Works Director Vanessa Dale Burns announced a plan to charge utility companies an annual per-foot space rental fee for overhead wires, underground cables, and surface level transmission boxes. Starpower, a digital cable company, and District Cablevision are exempt from that tax.

The city's semi-independent Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) will not be exempt, but will have to comply with the same standards as all other utilities, the mayor said.

Each utility company will be required to submit a comprehensive two-year plan in order to get a permit, and to post signs or distribute leaflets detailing the location, duration and type of work planned. Utilities also may be obligated to hire off-duty police officers to direct traffic at some sites.

The city has doubled the number of inspectors from eight to 16, and Mr. Tangherlini said the Metropolitan Police Department currently is training them in "confrontation management." These uniformed inspectors are armed with laptop computers and have the power to stop work at construction sites that are not in compliance with city rules and deadlines.

"Our goal is to minimize disruption, but we cannot eliminate all annoyance and all congestion that's impossible," Mr. Williams said. "We have to get our city wired."

Mr. Tangherlini predicted that the District is "going to see more of this kind of construction, not less."

Mr. Williams said he and his staff have been meeting regularly with local utilities to discuss the new rules and fees. But some industry members are already opposed to the plan.

"We already pay some of the highest fees in the nation," said Tim Sargent, a spokesman for Washington Gas. "We pay a 10 percent gross receipts tax. We think that more than compensates the city."

Mr. Sargent declined to speculate on whether the company would pass its increased costs on to customers.

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