MADEIRA BEACH — More than 40 ugly power and utility wires now dangling across Gulf Boulevard could disappear starting next summer under a $3.1 million plan.
In addition to burying many of the east-west lines, the proposed Gulf Boulevard beautification program calls for the remaining north-south wires to be strung along new concrete poles that will replace the existing aging and bent wooden power poles.
"This will certainly clean up the city's facade," City Manager Shane Crawford told the commission before it tentatively approved the plan last week.
"Ornate and decorative" lighting fixtures, similar to those now in front of Archibald Park, would replace existing lighting fixtures along the east side of Gulf Boulevard, he said.
But unlike another beach community to the north, Indian Shores, the city is not planning to bury all utility lines along the city's main thoroughfares.
To bury all utilities along Gulf Boulevard, Madeira Way and 150th Avenue to the bridge would cost an estimated $9 million, according to the city's engineering consultant, Steve Tarte, vice president of the Tampa-based CPWG engineering firm.
It would also necessitate getting easement agreements from property owners abutting the roadways and charging an assessment for tying those properties into the underground services.
It could take as much as an extra year to get these easements, Tarte said, with no guarantee that all property owners would allow the needed easements.
Perhaps most importantly, the cost for such an extensive project is much more than the approximately $3 million the city still expects to receive in Penny for Pinellas funds set aside by Pinellas County for beautification of Gulf Boulevard.
Another factor affecting the time frame for the partial burying of utilities is the county's distribution schedule for those funds — the city will receive the money annually in chunks of about $650,000 over the next several years.
In order to speed up the project, the commission is considering borrowing the money and pledging the county funds to repay the loan.
Tarte is seeking final costs from the city's major power, telephone and cable utilities. The design work for burying utility lines will take the balance of this year and part of next year to complete.
Once those numbers are verified, a final budget and timeline for the work will be established, Crawford said.
Given that, Crawford said he does not expect to ask the commission for a final decision to borrow money for the underground project until much later this year or even next year.
Assuming the commission decides to accelerate the project with a loan, actual construction would start by the fall of 2015 and be finished in 2016.
Other factors affecting the timing are state and county plans to complete safety reconstruction of pedestrian islands along Gulf Boulevard, install a new traffic signal at 140th Avenue and cut through Gulf Boulevard pavement in order to upgrade county utilities along the roadway.
Once all of this work — as well as the city's plan to bury east-west utilities — is completed, most of Gulf Boulevard will be resurfaced.
The finished roadway will include four 10-foot-wide travel lanes, slightly narrower than the current 12-foot-wide lanes, to accommodate 4-foot bicycle lanes.