WOBURN - A little over a year after overcoming the City Council's previous refusal to issue grant-of-location permits, Eversource this week reportedly broke ground on its massive 345,000 volt conduit project in East Woburn by Washington and Erie Streets.

According to recent notices sent out to abutters and city officials, McCourt Construction contractors earlier this week began setting up a staging area by Leland Park, where a pre-cast concrete vault will be buried under Washington Street between Erie Street and Ran Drive.

The construction work, taking place along one of Woburn's busiest traffic corridors and beside a city park that is normally bustling with activity, is expected to last for an unspecified number of days as the giant bunker is lowered into place by cranes.

"[C]rews will begin working on Washington Street between Erie Street and Ran Drive. Crews will install a new, pre-fabricated concrete vault with the use of a crane," Eversource's public outreach staff explained in a post to its 345Kv project webpage.

"An alternate traffic pattern on Washington Street will be necessary during work hours. Steel road plates will be used to temporarily, safely secure the area at the end of each day," the public utility further advised abutters and commuters.

Because of the size of the structure being installed, vehicles heading both to and from Winchester will encounter police details and lane closures on Washington Street by the work site, where motorists will be directed into an alternating one-way traffic pattern.

Expected to cause major traffic disruptions and neighborhood inconveniences, the now three-season long construction effort will begin at Woburn's electrical substation near Horn Pond and end at National Grid's Wakefield Junction Substation off of Salem Street near the Lynnfield line.

Impacting three other communities, including Winchester, Stoneham, and Wakefield, the high-voltage transmission line, to be buried underneath local streets across an 8.5-mile long route, will cost an estimated $140 million to build.

McCourt Construction officials earlier this spring begin marking off sections of pavement along the Woburn spur of the development, which involves major excavation and construction activity by the Horn Pond/Lake Avenue area and along the Winchester side of Washington Street.

The project will also include major traffic headaches along Montvale Avenue, where the conduit will be installed from the vicinity of Wendy's Restaurant to other end of the thoroughfare by Main Street in Stoneham Center. Unlike most of the construction activity, work along Montvale Avenue is expected to take place during the overnight hours so as to limit the potential impacts to commuters heading to and from I-93.

This construction season, Eversource hopes to install within Woburn and Stoneham as many as 10 underground bunkers or concrete structures with dimensions of eight-by-30-feet. Four of those structures, the construction of which will result in days-to-weeks long traffic closures and detours, will be installed within Woburn. Those locations include:

• A splicing bunker on Lake Avenue between Cove Street and Arlington Road;

• A manhole on Pickering Stret between Lake Avenue and Border Street;

• A splicing vault on Washington Street between B Street and Erie Street;

• and a bunker on Montvale Avenue between Albany Street and Rainin Road.

"The hours for construction in Woburn are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, on Lake Avenue, Pickering Street, Border Street, and Washington Street," read a public outreach presentation posted in April by Eversource — which at the time was concentrating its construction goals for neighboring Stoneham.

Eversource officials first announced plans for the massive public works undertaking back in 2015, but it wasn't until years later that the Woburn portion of the project became the subject of controversy. Although Mayor Scott Galvin and other city officials initially opted against fighting the proposal, the City Council in the spring of 2018 refused to issue grant-of-location permits for the project after insisting Eversource had refused to furnish basic details about construction timetables and phasing plans, abutters lists, and traffic detour schedules.

Ultimately, the public utility appealed that decision to the state's Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB), which had already approved the high-voltage transmission line route and project scope. Recognizing the city was unlikely to prevail in that legal challenge, Mayor Scott Galvin — with the endorsement of the City Council — inked a 22-page memorandum-of-understanding (MOU) with Eversource to settle the matter.

With the project having yet to even break ground, Eversource officials, citing emergency orders enacted across the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are asking to be excused from several of terms outlined within that MOU.

First and foremost, the utility company — which had planned to hold a public hearing within Woburn in early April on its construction plans — has announced it will no longer be able to meet that MOU pledge. Eversource has also notified the Town of Stoneham about similar problems with notification clauses within a separate MOU.

Eversource in a slide presentation posted to its website earlier this month, also advised project abutters in Stoneham and Woburn that the company will be unable to conduct door-to-door public outreach efforts due to the outbreak.

"Eversource and its contractors will follow social distancing and other health and safety guidelines in our community outreach efforts, including becoming more reliant on other forms of notifications, including letters, email and/or phone calls, instead of door hangers and in-person visits," the electricity distributor explained.

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