Engineers brief Los Altos Hills residents on utility undergrounding project

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos Hills plans to bury utility lines that fork out from the intersection of El Monte, Moody and Elena roads, above.

By spring 2022, Los Altos Hills is expected to break ground on its first major undergrounding utilities project, 4,500 linear feet of buried lines forking out from the El Monte fire station along El Monte, Moody and Elena roads, as well as on Tepa Way. The endeavor, referred to as an “ice breaker,” could be the precursor to a much more ambitious “ocean liner” phase involving the burial of overhead wires throughout town.

“I do want to assure everybody that this is not the only project,” town Public Works director Nichol Bowersox said last week. “This was selected mainly for its location and for its value in terms of evacuation and accessibility, but we are also going to be evaluating the town as a whole.”

Bowersox made her remarks during a virtual Feb. 9 presentation and question-and-answer session offered by Concord-based Bellecci & Associates, an engineering consulting firm the town has hired to assist with planning for the ice-breaker phase.

In addition to hiding utility wires from sight, undergrounding will ensure uninterrupted communication during emergencies and help protect the town from wildfire risks posed by fallen wires, Bellecci employees told their audience. Bringing additional service providers on board also could add sewer, gas and fiber internet lines to joint trenches containing utility wires.

The pilot project is expected to cost $5 million. The city council has agreed to pay Bellecci no more than $252,462 for consulting services, money that should get reimbursed; the state requires utilities like PG&E to provide work credits to cities and unincorporated areas for undergrounding. Currently, Los Altos Hills has $277,355 in credits, and it could accumulate $138,460 more by borrowing against future allocations.

Bellecci is presently undertaking the preliminary design portion of the project, which company representatives intend to complete by the end of 2021. After construction crews begin digging trenches next spring, it should take them between three and four months to finish. Utility providers will then remove existing poles and wires.

The pilot project will affect just six parcels in town, but all residents in the area should expect a period of one-lane traffic, flashing signage and flaggers directing vehicles, said Anoop Admal, a Bellecci principal and senior civil engineer.

Another community meeting about the pilot is slated for July. Council members also have expressed interest in conducting a formal survey with questions to determine residents’ appetites for undergrounding the entire town. If approved, an “ocean liner” phase would unfold in segments completed over the course of years, if not decades.

“Stay tuned for future council meetings because there will be a lot more discussion about this project as well as the feasibility study that we are working with Bellecci & Associates (on),” Bowersox said.

To provide feedback or ask questions about the project, call Bowersox at 947-2516 or email [email protected] FAQs, maps and updates about the pilot project are available on the town website at Vice Mayor George Tyson typically provides an undergrounding update at each city council meeting, and he is scheduled to do so toward the end of Thursday's meeting. The meeting agenda is available online.

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