Eversource Map

EVERSOURCE LINE WORK MAP

MIDDLESEX - It’s safe to say Stoneham’s officials were anything but electrified by recent news about the snail’s pace of work on a major underground transmission line.

Earlier this month, Eversource officials confirmed that Stoneham lived up to its name after a specialized drilling team from the midwestern United States discovered its high-powered boring equipment was no match for the community’s ledge rich soil.

With the drill’s teeth worn down substantially and then becoming jammed inside a rock outcropping earlier this fall, according to Eversource representatives, the metal casing being inserted into the ground was actually bent out-of-place by the resulting pressure. For weeks since, the specialized excavator, which hovers over expansive construction trench that sits in the center of one of Stoneham’s busiest intersections off Main Street, has been completely quiet.

“Our contractor ran into some rock and boulders that forced us to make repairs to our boring machine,” Eversource project manager Michael Hager told the Select Board last week. “Over the next few days, we’ll get a feel for whether we can continue on without hitting more obstructions. If that’s the case, it will take us through the end of November to complete the work.”

As a result of the big rig failure, residents along the community’s Elm Street corridor may have to endure traffic detours and and a host of other neighborhood nuisances for the start of a whole new construction season next spring. In fact, if winter lingers late into spring, the potential delays could last through a big portion of the summer of 2022.

Less than pleased with that worst-case scenario, town officials, who have dreaded the major $140 million electrical infrastructure project for years now, warned that residents in and around Elm Street are at their breaking point.

“These residents are suffering right now and really can’t go on any longer,” said Select Board member Raymie Parker. “This was supposed to be an 18-month project and we’re at 18-months right now. So how much longer?”

With weather presenting the biggest threat to the construction schedule, contractors are coming right up against the town’s seasonal Dec. 1 moratorium for road excavations and paving operations.

And though Town Administrator Dennis Sheehan is willing to be somewhat flexible with that Dec. 1 deadline, he and other local officials insist that big progress must be made in the coming weeks to justify that extension.

“What I don’t want to see is us pushing the envelope,” Stoneham Select Board Chair Heidi Bilbo recently remarked. “I don’t want to back ourselves into a corner where we have roadway and can’t effectively plow [any snow] that falls there. We have to be very careful.”

According to Sheehan, with the work area by Route 28 sitting in the middle of a major route to school, especially for those attending the nearby middle school, he not only has to worry about early snow storms, but also about ensuring that the intersection is restored to a suitable condition for pedestrians and motorists alike.

“That work area is very large and it’s really extensive in terms the equipment that’s there. It can’t just be moved in rapid fashion,” Sheehan later said of the big excavator by Central and Main Streets.

Project timeline

First unveiled back in 2015, the ongoing infrastructure project is a joint undertaking by Eversource and National Grid to bury the 345KV cable underneath an 8.5-mile stretch of local roadways between an electrical substation by Woburn’s Horn Pond and Wakefield’s Junction Substation off of Salem Street by the Lynnfield line.

With the project proving controversial from the start, local officials in Woburn, Stoneham, and Winchester all opposed the project at some point between 2015 and Feb. of 2017, when the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) overrode those local objections and granted a state permit for the high-voltage line.

Meanwhile, Wakefield, dealing with National Grid, signed off on the proposal early and allowed contractors to get right to work on planning and implementation.

In 2018, Stoneham joined with its neighbor by withdrawing its opposition and granting right-of-way and street-opening permits. Woburn soon followed, with Winchester holding out for a while longer before it too gave up the fight.

A major commuter thoroughfare that draws motorists heading westbound towards I-93 in Stoneham off of Montvale Avenue, Elm Street is almost entirely residential in character between Route 28 and the Wakefield line, where the road becomes Albion Street.

Since Nov. of 2019, when National Grid crews began digging up portions of Albion Street, Elm Street area residents have become intimately familiar with the 345KV project as gas and other utility companies began simultaneously digging up the roadway in Stoneham to relocate its line and equipment.

Beginning this spring, contractors began setting up major detours along and around Elm Street as several huge concrete splicing boxes, each with dimensions of eight-by-30-feet, were installed along various sections of the roadway. Since that time, the pockmarked road has been covered with huge steel plates that are used to cover up the massive holes at the end of each day.

Last week, Hager advised the Select Board that the remainder of the Elm Street excavation work beyond downtown Stoneham, will likely carry over until next spring.

Specifically, trenches still have to be dug along sections of the roadway closest to Stoneham Center (or from Penny Lane to Central Street). And with the construction team already racing to finish up its big jack-and-bore dig under the subsurface stream by Main and Central Street, Hager acknowledged that most of that Elm Street work will likely continue next spring.

Meanwhile, work crews are also trying to finish up work on the conduit project along Montvale Avenue, where the route crosses under I-93 by the Gulf Gas Station in Woburn. Yet another major part of the undertaking, the installation of a drainage culvert along Montvale Avenue by Lindenwood Cemetery will also take place next spring.

Hager also explained that next construction season, crews also have to begin inserting and pulling the actual high-voltage conduit through the freshly dug trenches across the community. Lastly, paving and restoration work is also scheduled to take place next year.

Though facing major setbacks in Stoneham, Eversource made much better progress along Montvale Avenue and other sections of East Woburn, where the high-voltage line runs from Washington Street in Winchester.

According to Woburn City Councilor Darlene Mercer-Bruen, though her constituents certainly suffered plenty due to traffic detours and round-the-clock noise nuisances, she has been generally satisfied with Eversource’s response to those complaints.

“I have to say the project manager was responsive when we had problems, but it was difficult for the people living on those streets,” said Mercer-Bruen in a recent interview.

McCourt Construction is now entirely out of East Woburn, but work still continues by Woburn’s Horn Pond area. Meanwhile, Eversource also still has much work to do in neighboring Winchester, where construction will begin next spring along portions of Washington Street near Cross Street.

Currently, excavation activity on the 345KV line by the Winchester and Woburn lines is focused on Pickering Street near Border Street and Lake Avenue. It is expected crews will remain in that area through November.

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