The price of a utility pole: $200,000

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Maryland,Rachel Baye

Editor's note: This article has been updated from the original version. In that version, Traffic Group President Wes Guckert said some of his clients pay $1 billion to move poles. Guckert says he misspoke and meant to say they pay $1 million.


That is how much moving just one utility pole can cost in the Washington area.

The cost varies wildly based on a number of factors: the material the pole is made of, the type and number of wires on the pole, how the wires are arranged, how deep the pole is buried and whether there is any large equipment on the pole -- like a switch or a transformer.

The tab could be as cheap as $2,000, or as expensive as $200,000 -- whether the pole is being moved for construction, or because it was knocked down by a blizzard or errant driver.

But even at the bargain rate, the costs add up quickly for the area's transportation projects -- and for the taxpayers footing the bill. Each project requires moving dozens, if not hundreds, of utility poles.

"I have clients that are paying $1 million to move poles," said Wes Guckert, president of the Traffic Group, which consults on transportation projects in the Baltimore-Washington area.

He recently priced the cost of moving each pole on major thoroughfares like Rockville Pike at $100,000 to $200,000 for a proposed Montgomery County rapid bus network.

Think about how many utility poles line Rockville Pike. You could probably see a dozen in front of you while stuck at a traffic light.

A Dominion Virginia Power spokeswoman said the difference in the cost can range by as much as $200,000.

"Those costs vary so much depending on the type of the work, the area of work," Le-Ha Anderson said.

In the District, moving a pole holding a streetlamp costs about $10,000, said District Department of Transportation spokesman John Lisle.

Most Pepco poles cost between $2,000 and $60,000 to move, including restringing power lines and moving adjacent poles, said Pepco spokesman Bob Hainey, though some cost more.

Moving one pole generally means moving at least three more on either side, depending on how much slack is in the wires, said Holger Serrano, deputy Transportation Engineering Division chief in Montgomery County's Department of Transportation. Sometimes the wires have to be spliced, which is labor-intensive.

"We try to minimize the number of pole relocations because we know we have a cost," he said.

Virginia probably will spend about $20 million moving a couple hundred poles, as well as utility lines, for the Capital Beltway high-occupancy toll lanes, said Jeff Wagner, spokesman for Fluor-Lane, the project's design builder.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority expects to spend about $190 million moving utilities like water and sewer pipes, electric and phone lines, and natural gas lines while building the 23-mile Dulles Rail project, said project manager Patrick Nowakowski. That works out to a whopping $8.26 million a mile.

And the 16-mile Purple Line planned for Montgomery and Prince George's counties likely would require about $200 million on utilities, said Project Manager Mike Madden, emphasizing that moving poles is the cheapest part of the utility work.

Still, officials generally try to move as few poles as possible, Serrano said, and they cringe when they have to move the same pole twice.


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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner