Placing overhead utility lines below city streets, or "undergrounding", has helped to beautify Pasadena, improve electric service reliability, enhance public safety and protect our urban forest. After nearly 50 years of focused effort, Pasadena Water and Power will soon be collecting community input to determine when to complete the Underground Program and discontinue the underground surtax on our customers' electric bills.
About the Underground Program
Underground Program Q&A
Beautification and reliability have been at the forefront of a multi-year Capital Improvement Program which began in 1968 with the Underground Utility District Program, then managed by the Department of Public Works. Under this initiative, the city works to underground overhead utility systems including electric cable and telephone communication lines. The undergrounding process improves aesthetic quality of an area by removing unsightly utility poles and overhead power lines.
Before the City begins work on an Underground Utility District, all affected property owners are notified. The City then installs underground vaults, transformers, conduit, drainage systems, and primary and secondary cables in the designated zone. Subsequently, the City connects each property to the underground system and coordinates with telephone, cable and other utility providers to relocate all lines underground. Category I streets are the only category required for utility companies to underground, so while all utility lines are included in both Category I and Category II streets, utility providers only help fund the construction of Category I streets. Once all lines are removed, PWP removes utility poles and completes street repairs.
Work is currently underway to complete two active Underground Program projects; Hill Avenue (from Villa Street to Topeka Street) and Alpine Street (from Marengo Avenue to Oak Knoll Avenue). Two additional Utility Underground Districts have been approved (Mountain and N. Raymond), but work has been suspended on these projects pending a decision on the future of the Underground Program.
The Underground Program was established with safety and reliability in mind. Placing utility lines underground protects delicate equipment and helps reduce the chances of power outages due to windstorms, vehicle accidents, and other hazards. Undergrounding also comes with some challenges. Underground utility systems tend to have fewer unplanned outages, but when outages do occur, they take longer to locate and repair. Underground circuits are also more expensive to build and maintain.
Based on the current funding structure, the cost of Undergrounding is about $90,000 per property affected -- or about $10-12 million per mile-- for a total cost of about $2 billion to complete all feasible city streets. Ongoing operation and maintenance costs for underground utility systems are paid for by electric rate funds. Compared to that of overhead systems, these costs tend to be higher. Construction costs for the Underground Program are funded in part by an Underground Surtax, collected from all PWP electric customer bills. The Underground Surtax generates approximately $5 million per year, enough revenue to fund the construction of approximately 0.5 to 0.7 miles of construction per year. For our customers, the surtax ranges from 1.21% to 4.34% of the total electrical charges depending on your monthly electric bill as follows:
For a typical 500 kwh-per-month residential customer, the Underground Surtax is about $44 per year.
All Underground Surtax revenue to date has been used for Category I streets, which are classified as heavily used arterial and collector streets with a concentration of power lines, near civic areas, city landmarks and public recreation areas. Category I streets are scheduled to be completed first. Construction will be done on streets where overhead lines are deteriorated and need replacement, where power lines are in conflict with trees or buildings, where there is a higher risk of fire, where major street construction is planned, and where new or expanded power facilities are needed.
Pasadena identified a total of 94 miles of Category I streets for conversion in the Underground Districts Program, of which 46 miles have been converted to underground utilities thus far. With the current funding supply, it would take approximately 100 years to complete remaining Category 1 streets at an estimated cost of $600 to 700 million. Click here for a map of completed underground circuits
Once Category I streets are completed, the Underground Utility Districts Program would then move on to Category II, which includes residential streets, alleys and feasible rear-property easements. These streets will take longer and cost more to construct, and in many cases may not be suitable for undergrounding at all. Pasadena has a total of 150 miles of Category II streets, of which approximately 79 miles are suitable for undergrounding. With the current funding level, it will be about 100 years before work on Category II streets starts and take another 300 years to complete and fund the work.
Pasadena has 150 miles of Category II streets, approximately 79 miles of which are suitable for undergrounding. The rest of the streets have been determined as not ideal for construction, for several reasons. Cost can be a significant factor in determining feasibility. PWP collaborates with telecommunication and cable companies to design, build, and convert their overhead lines while undergrounding PWP's power lines, but since those companies are not required to underground, PWP must fund the cost of the project through the Underground Program. Maintenance costs can also be much higher when placing utility lines underground, so certain areas are deemed unsuitable when factoring in the cost to underground both power and other utility lines. Additionally, a large number of streets that are not ideal for undergrounding are located in residential areas, where utility poles are located in the rear of a residential property, or in neighborhood alleyways. Given that these overhead lines are mostly hidden from view, converting them to underground facilities would not provide any additional aesthetic benefit for the street in front of the property.
Option 1: Continue the Undergrounding Program at the current pace. At the rate of funds collected at this time, it would take about a hundred years to complete the remaining Category I streets.Option 2: Stop the Surtax. The Undergrounding Program would discontinue when the funds that have already been collected have been spent on undergrounding related efforts.
Option 3: Increase the surtax to accelerate the program. This means construction would increase from 0.7 miles of construction to 1.5 miles per year. It would still take about 200 years to complete the program, and approximately 70 miles would not be completed.
The City, under the direction of the Department of Public Works, has undergrounded approximately 46 miles of major arterial streets to date. PWP now manages the Undergrounding Program and will be seeking community input as it plans for the future of the program. PWP has coordinated with each City Council member to hold district meetings beginning mid-October until mid-November. Below is a summary of the proposed scheduled meetings:
Brookside Golf Club1133 Rosemont Avenuein the Rose Room
Santa Catalina Library999 E. Washington Blvd.
Lake Avenue Church393 N. Lake Avenue3rd Floor, Room 300
Rose Bowl Locker Room 1001 Rose Bowl Dr.
McKinley School Library325 S Oak Knoll Ave.
If you have any questions about Pasadena’s Underground Program, please visit the Undergrounding FAQ page, enter your questions below, or call PWP’s Utility Service Planning Group at (626) 744-4495.
After reviewing the options detailed above, would you like to keep the Underground Program in Pasadena? Please write YES or NO: (optional)
To learn more about PWP's other undergrounding program, visit the Electric System Conversion Program, click here