With National Grid contractors reaching several milestones in Wakefield during the off-peak winter season, Eversource expects to soon break ground on its portion of major high-voltage line installation project in two area communities.
According to Eversource spokesman Reid Lamberty, the electricity distributor expects to begin burying sections of a 345,000 volt cable underneath streets in Stoneham and Woburn sometime this spring.
Before doing so, the utility company will host at least one public forum to notify area businesses and residents about the proposed construction timetable, planned traffic detours, and other expected impacts from the massive undertaking. So far, that meeting time and location hasn't been finalized, but Lamberty advised The Middlesex East that the start of construction will not begin until a least a month after citizens are invited to that public information session.
"We are planning for a spring construction start for Woburn and Stoneham. We will have a public house [first], and that will be held 30-to-60 days before we break ground," the Eversource spokesman explained.
Initially estimating the investment would cost around $140 million, Eversource first unveiled plans for the major infrastructure project back in 2015. The proposed 8.5-mile long transmission line, to begin by Horn Pond in Woburn and end by Wakefield's Junction Substation off Salem Street.
In total, excavation activity, which in Wakefield is being overseen by National Grid, is expected to last 22-months.
Since the state's Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) authorized the project scope in Feb. of 2017, community leaders and abutters have been dreading the start of construction activity. Specifically, the construction activity will involve the construction of large work trenches — at least four-feet wide and up to five-feet deep — along some of the two communities busiest thoroughfares, including:
• Washington Street in Woburn from its border with Winchester by Leland Park to the intersection of Montvale Avenue by Wendy's Restaurant;
• The entire length of Montvale Avenue from Washington Street in Woburn to Main Street in Stoneham's downtown area;
• Main Street from Stoneham Square to Elm Street;
• And the whole length of Elm Street in Stoneham to the Wakefield line, where the roadway becomes Albion Street.
The work in Woburn will also include similar excavation activities along residential side streets near Horn Pond, such as Lake Avenue and Pickering Street.
In late November of 2019, officials in Stoneham — advised about ongoing gas line relocation activity on Elm Street — began watching downstream traffic patterns in Wakefield as National Grid workers began work on its spur of the infrastructure project.
Specifically, contractors began ripping up large sections of Albion Street right by the Stoneham line to begin installing various "splicing vaults", which are by far the largest underground structures involved in the 345Kv transmission line project.
Those concrete boxes, with dimensions of eight-by-30 feet, are spaced along the entire 8.5-mile route in order to join together sections of the high-voltage lines by sharp-angled turns in the road. In total, 11 of the underground vaults will be built in Stoneham and Woburn.
Given the size of the structures, which require the closure of the entire roadway, Wakefield officials had expected the resulting traffic detours — enforced 24-hours a day — would create commuter chaos.
However, according to Wakefield Town Manager Stephen Maio, he has been pleasantly surprised by National Grid's skillful public outreach efforts. Though acknowledging there is no way to completely avoid the inconveniences caused by the road closures, the town manager believes Eversource officials would do well to copy the methods employed in Wakefield.
"With anything else, there are always issues and inconveniences. But overall, I would say the traffic, though it still takes people longer to get from A to B, has gone better than expected," the town manager remarked during a recent phone interview.
"National Grid has been very good about meeting weekly with our [police, fire, and DPW] personnel to go over the impacts of that work. They've also been very good about updating our website and [notifying] local media organizations about the routes," said Maio.
In spite of Wakefield's surprising experience, officials in neighboring municipalities anticipate traffic-impacts will prove worse along other portions of the high-voltage transmission line route. Specifically, though the Wakefield course does involve several busy traffic corridors, town officials in that town were also able to divert a pivotal piece of the transmission line towards a future bikeway — thereby avoiding potential detours in the heart of the community's downtown area.
In late 2019, after watching first-hand some of the work progress in Wakefield, Stoneham's Select Board insisted that Eversource needs to conduct a similar public outreach process before breaking ground.
In fact, according to Select Board members Raymie Parker and George Seibold, the utility company had committed to that pre-construction outreach in a memorandum-of-understanding (MOU) inked with community leaders the previous winter.
"There was supposed to be a lot of community outreach and a website. Is that all starting?" asked Parker during a meeting in Town Hall in December.
"That communication piece is going to be huge," Seibold subsequently remarked.
Based upon that agreement, say town officials, Eversource must knock on residents' doors, send out mailers, and send out Internet-based notifications. The MOU also requires Eversource to hold at least one public forum regarding the project in Stoneham.
A similar MOU, endorsed by Woburn's City Council last spring, contains virtually identical public outreach requirements.
The 345,000 volt cable is also being buried underneath a number of roadways in nearby Winchester, but so far, Eversource has not indicated when crews would begin work on that section of the transmission line.
Originally, Stoneham and Winchester joined forces to contest the proposed energy installation when it was first proposed back in 2015. However, after the Mass. Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) indicated it was likely to okay the project route and scope, Stoneham abandoned the fight and instead settled upon the terms of a 16-page MOU.
Woburn, which had initially opted against a fight with Eversource during the original EFSB proceedings, subsequently switched sides in the spring of 2018, when the City Council refused to issue grant-of-location permits for the project.
However, less than a year later, when it became clear the state would override that denial, city leaders joined with Stoneham in similarly agreeing to settlement terms. In March of 2019, the EFSB as expected announced it was overturning the Woburn City Council's decision to deny permits for the transmission line.
Those looking for more information about the 345Kv project can visit Eversource's homepage for details like maps, more detailed traffic detour plans, and background information about the installation. The direct link is: https://www.eversource.com/content/ema-c/about/projects-infrastructure/projects/massachusetts-transmission-projects/woburn-to-wakefield-line-project0