Is it worth burying the wiring? Who should pay?

As part of the “plan” for the “southern gateway” collection of high rises being built at Preston and Carling, the City decided that street wiring should be buried around the new towers.

This wasn’t a neighbourhood priority, as we know the wiring will be buried very shallowly (because its cheaper) thus preventing tree planting anyway:

this wiring duct is about 18″ below the surface

Nonetheless, burying wiring isn’t necessarily bad. But …  (of course, you knew there would be a “but” …)

The wiring has been buried around Claridge’s 45 storey ICON building at the corner of Carling. Including moving a post just a few feet. I wonder how much that “public amenity” cost? I’m sure you are thrilled with the streetscape improvement. Your municipal dollars at work.

That’s the back corner of the building site on the extreme left. Surely removing the tacky above ground wiring from around new buildings means more than just to the inch in front of the building property line? After all, any “view” of the building will still include the wiring. And any resident on the lower floors that looks out will still be staring at a utility pole and overhead wires. I had, maybe naively, assumed burying wiring around the new towers would mean burying the wiring for the whole block its on.

Maybe not.

But maybe there will be trees in concrete planter boxes? Surely those will grow just as well??

A few blocks away, there is an attractive infill project of 20 townhouses that replaces the late, much unlamented Cousin Eddy’s Garage. The folks buying these houses paid for underground wiring connections. Including some flush to the ground utility boxes.

But somehow, that new wiring doesn’t replace the ugly overhead wiring right in front of all their windows.

Bell is in the process of removing all the backyard wiring in our west side neighbourhood, replacing it with fibre optic cable buried a few inches deep along the sidewalks. But with this existing streetside overhead Bell and Rogers cable, I suspect they won’t be in a hurry to bury it.

I find it puzzling that the City requires residents and businesses in the post-1960’s neighbourhoods and along arterials to pay for buried wiring. The cost of which is buried in their home purchase price or rental costs.

Back when the city started a program of rebuilding downtown residential streets, I proposed they bury the wiring too. Oh no, was the reply, it imposes too high an unexpected cost on residents and tenants and would be unjust. But suburbanites pay for this on their mortgages, not as a one time charge, so why not do that here, amortizing it over 20 years on their electric bills? Absolutely not! Out of the question. And people with small front yards would object to the large power boxes that would be installed in front of their houses. Seriously. They were scraping the barrel then, and we haven’t progressed any since then.

To be clear: wiring should be buried when streets are rebuilt, or for the block major new projects* appear on. It should be buried deeply enough to allow for tree lined streets. And if deemed a local improvement, the cost should be recovered over 20 years, just like we require folks to do in the ‘burbs. Or, our local officials can continue to overcharge for electricity, profiting from their monopoloy ownership of the electric “utility”, to spend the gravy money on pet projects, all while complaining about big biz.


* where neighbourhoods or blocks are undergoing replacement of many / most / all the housing, such as Champlain Park or Roosevelt Avenue, I’d require each new house to have underground connections. After all, in about a decade, it will be pretty much all new housing. But connected to Council’s 1940’s overhead wiring. Sheesh.


9 thoughts on “Is it worth burying the wiring? Who should pay?

  1. If the city included the cost of burying wires in existing neighbourhoods in their official plan(s), then the cost would be included in the development fees charged on new builds. The same comment applies to the cost of extending the LRT to the suburban communities to the west and south of the Greenbelt. This would create the source of funding to pay for the improvements.

    Of course, since our elected officials believe, or perhaps want us to believe, that an extra couple of thousand dollars per unit in development fees will make new homes “unaffordable”, we already know the answer to why they haven’t done neither.

  2. Alas, we went through this when the ‘complete street’ plan for Main Street was being discussed with residents in the area. I was part of a group who shared much of the views expressed here. But we got the same argument, “too costly”. No one ever mentioned the implied advantages to Ottawa Hydro, which would accrue through reduced risk form ice, and reduced maintenance costs. It is all due to short-term thinking cleverly packaged by politicians to get votes and agreement from uninformed citizens. In a modern city, there should simply be NO overhead wiring. The unfortunate remainder cables form Rogers and Bell are a perfect reflection of the failure of regulatory obligations on private enterprise. These quasi monopolies pass on all their costs to the user anyway. Have you analyzed your communications (TV, internet, phone) bill lately?

  3. I totally agree with the above comments. Above ground wiring in this day and in this climate is unconscionable.
    Back to the ice storm of 1998 when thousands of Ottawans went without power, we living in the Beaverbrook community of Kanata, where Bill Teron buried the wires in his new community, enjoyed uninterrupted service.
    Seems to me this was a saving to the utility company of the day but our taxes and utility bills subsequently reflected the expense of repair to overhead facilities across the region.
    Why is it that developers today cannot see this as a benefit to homeowners?
    Oh, wait…..I get it! Too expensive! Thinking ahead?…..yeah right!
    Thanks for this forward thinking article.

    1. You don’t have a uninterrupted service I have under ground wiring in my area and we lost power 6 times this summer.

  4. is there a way to get unbiased estimates on the cost? when the city is already digging up an entire road it seems to me that it shouldn’t be multiple 100s of millions of dollars to bury the wires at the same time but those are the estimates I’ve seen from Hydro.

  5. Betsy: The electricity providers are a monopoly. They have no interest in competitive pricing. Ergo, there is a flat rate they charge for burying the wiring, even in simple cases with little or no surface remediation required (because the road dept is doing it already). And i have no doubt they have upcharges for difficult situations. Its a rigged game, they write the rules, are the referees, and are the beneficiaries, seconded by the politicians who control the “dividend” (profits) from the overcharging. Sigh.

    1. And I guess there’s no independent consortium advocating for burying the lines because they would benefit financially and there’s usually something more pressing that neighborhood associations have to fight. Sure would be nice to have a responsive government that would advocate for improved quality of life!

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