Putting the wires underground involves digging trenches 6-8 feet deep on both sides of the street and digging one perpendicularly to each house and building.
After a particularly hard crunch was suffered by his car's front end on the really bad pavement in front of his Normal Heights house, Kevin G. used the city's Get It Done app to ask the city to fix the street. But nothing happened and the complaint was closed. So he found a City of San Diego road crew and asked how to actually get it done.
The supervisor he spoke with told him that the spot was on the list of major repairs, but it wouldn't be done until the utility undergrounding scheduled for the street was completed. When would that be? Kevin says he called the city's undergrounding department to find out. What he heard made things weird.
"They told me they don't know when it will be done," Kevin said. "They've scrapped the master list and are setting up a new schedule in meetings over the next year. So no one knows."
Several people who want to stop hurting their cars and bikes on bad pavement have heard the Kafka-esque exchange: "We can't fix your street until the undergrounding is done and we don't have a schedule to do that." Friends, a neighbor, and even a Normal Heights planning-group member heard the same thing in the past month.
The city has been working on more than a thousand miles of city streets, putting utilities — SDG&E, SBC, AT&T, TimeWarner, and Cox Cable — underground since the 1970s. The project is slated to go on until 2063 and has been progressing in segments submitted by each council district and drawn up in a master plan that was last updated in 2009. The project aims to do about 15 miles of roadway per year, according to the city.
The 2009 master plan was scrapped in late 2016.
"The 2009 master plan was operating using the old [city council] district boundary lines," said city spokesman Anthony Santacroce. “Additionally, the program has new methods for making undergrounding projects more efficient, including a smarter prioritization sequence.”
Santacroce said that the new master plan will focus on residential areas first and will schedule segments to try to avoid construction fatigue in the neighborhood where the work is being done.
Kevin said he was told that the master plan became unwieldy with scheduled sections dropping out and being replaced by others, with jobs that went faster or slower than the plan and with community requests for delays. The eight-year-old master plan for a thousand miles of work done 15 miles at a time became useless, he said.
Putting the wires underground involves digging trenches 6-8 feet deep on both sides of the street and digging one perpendicularly to each house and building to where the wires enter the structures. It's noisy work that starts with breaking existing pavement and leaves trenches covered with metal plates until it's done. When it's finished, the utility poles are removed and supplanted by green and gray boxes between the sidewalk and curb. The money to pay for the project came from us ratepayers as part of monthly charges on our electric bills.
So far, the city has held three meetings to get public involvement and has one more planned for February 21, according to the website. All the comments will lead to a draft plan expected to go to the city council for final approval in late fall of this year. In the meantime, the city's Department of Transportation & Stormwater appears to be focused on street slurry and pothole filling, steering clear of the badly damaged roads that require major demolition and reconstruction.
Kevin said his street is still in dire need of repair, whether or not undergrounding comes through. No one at the city was able to say whether the street work put on hold until the undergrounding is being rescheduled or will also have to wait.
"I guess I'll keep putting it on the Get It Done app, and hope they don't keep closing the ticket," he said. "And use a different route to stay out of that bottomless pit at the end of my street."