Undergrounding is the most comprehensive and effective method of reducing the visual impact of utility wires. This is done by removing utility poles, and burying wires and equipment in conduits or pipes. The art of undergrounding utilities is common in countries known for their scenic beauty such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and Great Britain.
When it comes to burying wires, cost is the biggest challenge.. Estimates for utility burial can range from $500,000 to $3 million per mile. In comparison, the construction of overhead lines is $120,000 per mile.
The cost is higher because of how expensive burying utility wires in conduits is. Conduits are the best method of burying wires to ensure reliability and facilitate repairs. Coordinating the burial of several wires, such as telephone and cable television wires that also use poles, is another expense. While burying cables directly in the ground is possible, this technique makes it more difficult and time consuming to locate problems and make repairs.
Communities can manage the cost of undergrounding by:
- Timing the project with other utility work, such as gas or sewer line replacement;
- Consolidating high voltage lines and burying only low voltage wires; or
- Undergrounding only feeder lines (the lines that actually run to buildings) and hiding main lines along one side of the road.
Relocation of Wires
In areas where undergrounding is not feasible or cost-effective, communities can work with utility companies to move wires and poles to less visually intrusive areas. This can include running lines along the rear of buildings or through alleyways. In more rural areas, utility companies can run lines over ridgelines and out of viewsheds. Similarly, poles can also be set back from the right-of-way and screen them behind treelines.
Reduction of Utility Wires
Screening reduces the appearance of utility poles and hides equipment such as substations, meters, and transformers. One of the easiest ways to reduce wires is to consolidate lines along one side of the roadway on a single pole and wrap them to create the appearance of only one cable.
Other strategies communities can pursue include:
- Persuading utility companies to erect poles that complement their surroundings;
- Using heavier cables and stronger poles to reduce the number of poles required;
- Planting trees, shrubs, and other vegetation around substations and transformers to make them less intrusive; and
- Raising wires above sight lines along buildings and signs to make them less noticeable.