Benefits of undergrounding

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As our name indicates (Power Line Environment Committee), our focus is to improve the environment of locations by undergrounding unsightly power lines by assisting local government in achieving such initiatives. 

To achieve maximum benefit from the undergrounding of power lines, it is desirable to undertake improvements to other elements of the streetscape at the same time. This can include stormwater drainage, paving, trees or other plantings, road resurfacing and possibly re-alignment. Harmonisation of signage, fascia upgrades of commercial properties and enhancement of heritage elements are also important contributions to the desired outcome.

PLEC encourages Councils to include streetscaping in their proposals for power line undergrounding projects.

The Charter of PLEC defines the purpose of undergrounding as “….to improve the aesthetics of an area for the benefit of the general community…….” and PLEC will give priority to Councils who include streetscaping in their proposals. PLEC projects to date have focussed on tourist areas, historical areas and areas of commercial activity.

The economic case for streetscaping

On average, the overall cost of undergrounding power lines is in the order of $1,750 per metre of common service trench. The cost of streetscaping varies considerably and is estimated to be in the order of $100-200 per metre. The average total cost of a PLEC projects is about $800,000 of which the cost to councils is around $270,000 per project. Streetscaping may add a further $70-150,000 to this cost over and above any new kerbing, guttering and reconstruction of the road surface etc. Thus, streetscaping may add up to around 20% to the total project cost.

Businesses in streets that have had both their power lines undergrounded and streetscaping provided have gained significantly from the commercial and community revitalisation brought about by the streetscaping initiative. Examples in urban areas of Adelaide include Hutt Street, Jetty Road, Brighton and Sir Donald Bradman Drive, while in the country, the commercial hearts of towns in popular tourist areas such as the Barossa Valley, the Copper Triangle, Eyre Peninsula and South Coast have been revitalised.

It is difficult to place an economic value on the commercial benefits gained through undergrounding and street-scaping, but businesses that have experienced such initiatives are enthusiastic about the benefits. It may be safely assumed that the on-going benefit greatly exceeds the cost of streetscaping.

What streetscaping covers

Streetscaping plans can include planting of trees and garden beds (including adding to existing plantings), upgrading of pedestrian areas through the paving of footpaths and the installation of coordinated street furniture such as seating, signage (directional and commercial), bicycle racks, rubbish bins, decorative lighting and street art.

Paving of pedestrian areas and intersections of streets provides a distinct comparison between old and new. The variety of paving blocks available allows designers to incorporate coloured patterns in the paving that, in itself, can be a major focus of the streetscape. Councils need to encourage upgrading of fascias and coordination of signage of commercial properties especially in heritage and/or historic areas.

Most streetscape concepts are based around a theme – such as a nautical theme at a foreshore location or a heritage theme in an older location.  Apart from the capital work that a council may do, shop owners can be encouraged to renovate facades, verandas and shop fronts in a manner sympathetic to the theme.

The inclusion of additional plantings is encouraged.  There may be space restrictions caused by verandas and narrow footpaths, but this can be overcome with the use of planter boxes or landscaped protuberances within parking areas.

A design can include the installation of attractive shaded seating areas or bus shelters for convenience and to encourage the community to stop and appreciate the surroundings. It is also an opportunity to introduce soft engineering practices such as reduction, cleaning and re-use of stormwater run-off.