Fayette County

Utility lines along Newtown Pike extension will be buried, but not before WEG

Power lines along the new section of the Newtown Pike extension will remain above ground until after the Games, then they will be buried.
Power lines along the new section of the Newtown Pike extension will remain above ground until after the Games, then they will be buried.

After public outcry last summer about plans to put unattractive overhead utility lines along a new section of Newtown Pike, Gov. Steve Beshear said the state Transportation Cabinet would pick up the cost of burying the lines.

But that beautification effort will not be finished before visitors arrive in town for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, which begin Sept. 25. Instead, visitors will see the overhead utility lines that have been installed in recent days.

"It was never the intent — or even possible — to have the utilities buried before the WEG," Natasha Lacy, spokeswoman for District 7 of the state Highway Department, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The new section of road that connects West Main Street to Versailles Road will be open to traffic before the games, said Andrew Grunwald, a senior municipal engineer for the city.

"Our main goal was to have the road open. We knew the project would not be totally completed," he said.

The goal is to have all the conduits and other infrastructure needed to bury the utilities completed before the Games begin. Immediately after the Games end on Oct. 10, utility companies will come back, run their lines underground and reconnect to buildings along the route, said Cliff Feltham, spokesman for Kentucky Utilities.

Feltham estimated the work could be completed in a matter of weeks, depending on winter weather conditions. Seven utility companies, including KU, Windstream and AT&T, will use the conduits.

The Newtown Pike extension, which will eventually extend 1.5 miles from West Main Street to South Limestone at Scott Street in front of the University of Kentucky, will cost $87 million, according to the most recent estimates.

The utility lines will not be underground in time for the Games because burying them was not part of the original road construction contract. The contract had already been awarded by the time public complaints about the utility lines began surfacing.

Leading the effort to get the overhead lines buried were Graham Pohl and his brother, Clive, both Lexington architects. On Tuesday, when told the lines would not be buried immediately, Graham Pohl said the news did not come as a surprise.

"They told us about that early on ... there was no intention to get the work done before WEG," he said.

Pohl said he was fine with the delay.

"For me, burying the lines is not a quick-fix issue. It's a lifetime issue. If they can't do it for a year or two, that's fine, as long as they do it," he said.

Work on the Newtown Pike extension, which has been on the drawing board for about 30 years, began last August and was scheduled to be completed before the Games start. Grunwald said that goal would be met, but he did not have an exact date.