Underground vault work gives council jitters as Trade and Transit II plan gets under way

City Council has nervous anticipation about the extra time it has taken an electrical company to perform work beneath a downtown city street as it asked to do yet another job one street away.

Council approved a resolution Thursday night to have PPL workers relocate an electrical box beneath Willow Street closer to William Street, a distance of about 40 feet, as site preparation begins on Trade and Transit II, a 300-space garage replacing Mid-Town garage on West Third Street. Mid-Town is scheduled to be razed after the Little League World Series concludes in late August.

The vault relocation will require a sum not to exceed $110,000 and is paid for by River Valley Transit budget, but that wasn’t what bothered several on council, who cited the amount of extra time it has taken by the utility company to perform necessary work beneath West Fourth Street.

While PPL officials were not present to provide clarification or explanation, the picture painted by city officials was not a good one in terms of potential traffic disruptions as the old garage is torn down.

“The utility has not lived up to its time promised (regarding the West Fourth Street vault work) and I know it’s not going to be good,” said William E. Nichols Jr., director of city finance and general manager of River Valley Transit, which owns the Mid-Town deck.

Representatives of the utility company did not immediately respond to the administration’s correspondence about the time schedule. John Grado, director of community and economic development and city engineer, has emailed PPL, too.

The electrical system repairs reportedly tied up buses and negatively affected downtown stores and shoppers, according to statements by Councilman N. Clifford “Skip” Smith, chairman of the public works committee, who further suggested that an ordinance be passed with “teeth” to make such infrastructure projects overseen by contractors move along with more efficiency.

Councilwoman Bonnie Katz, a downtown merchant who owns a chocolate and gift shop on Pine Street, said she also was troubled by the extra time it has taken the utility to perform its work beneath West Fourth Street.

Katz and her colleagues on council and in the administration don’t want to see a repeat performance with the expected electrical work that must be done on Willow Street, and expected jobs beneath a portion of West Third Street and on Laurel Street.

Whether the utility can live up to a quicker resolution will have to be seen, according to Nichols, responding to the work, especially in front of the Mid-Town deck on West Third Street, which he anticipates will cause disruption, with barrels blocking one lane and the only other lane to be open – a parking lane on the southside.

The city administration has said it will do its part with the permit system that may help spur development getting done as quickly as possible.

City Codes Administrator Joseph Gerardi said the utility contractor will operate under permit to be issued on a month-to-month basis. The city ordinance provides an ability for the codes department to assess financial penalties if the company exceeds the allotted time on the permit, without applying for a renewal, Gerardi said.