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Side by side: Rows of poles turning heads in Marshfield

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Old utility poles along Plain Street, Route 139 in Marshfield, are in the middle of the new wider roadway, next to the new utility poles, on the right, which were put up in January. (Greg Derr/ The Patriot Ledger)

By Patrick Ronan, The Patriot Ledger, Posted
Apr 30, 2013

MARSHFIELD — Motorists may think they’re seeing double in the west end of Marshfield, where two rows of utility poles line one side of Route 139. The poles in the road are still in use, while the poles on the sidewalk have stood idle for nearly four months.

The poles are not only a confusing sight for commuters, they’re also a concern for state officials who are eager to complete the $4.1 million road-widening project along Route 139. The project, adding two travel lanes to a 1-mile stretch of a busy road, started last spring and is set to finish in July 2014.

But because the removal of the poles and wires in road projects are paid for by the utility companies, and not by the state, the timing of the project is at the mercy of the utility crews.

“We can’t order them when to move (the poles), only that they have to move (them),” Frank DePaola, highway division administrator for the state Department of Transportation, said.

Department of Transportation Secretary Richard Davey said most delays in state-funded road projects are caused by utilities. He wants to create a payment system that is similar to the state Accelerated Bridge Program, which reimburses utility companies if they move their infrastructure on a bridge project within a time period set by the state.

“It’s really a carrot-on-a-stick approach,” Davey said.

Verizon is responsible for placing and removing poles on Route 139, although the company shares the poles with NStar and Comcast. Phil Santoro, a spokesman for Verizon, said the Route 139 project will cost his company more than $750,000.

Electricity provider NStar must install its equipment and wires on the new poles in Marshfield before Verizon and Comcast can move their wires. Michael Durand, spokesman for NStar, said this conversion should be finished this summer, but scheduling can be difficult because NStar’s crews have other jobs.

“We schedule the MassDOT jobs along with all of the other day-to-day work we do to maintain electrical service for our customers,” Durand said.

Barring any unforeseen delays, DePaola said the plan is to have the new poles working – and the old poles taken down – by the end of the fall. This would open up Route 139 to four lanes of traffic during the winter. Next spring, crews from Hanover contractor P.A. Landers would return to finish the project, which also includes new sidewalks and a new traffic light.

Earlier this month, state Rep. James Cantwell, D-Marshfield, filed an amendment to the state’s transportation-funding bill that would have created the utility reimbursement program for road projects. But the amendment was changed on the House floor, and instead legislators approved a study to see how this new funding program would be implemented.

Cantwell, who drives past the Route 139 poles on his way to work every day, said Davey, the leader of the state’s transportation department, has visited Marshfield twice in recent months to check on the status of the road-expansion project.

“We want to be sure we keep pressure on to see the project reach a speedy conclusion,” Cantwell said.
The process of replacing poles on Route 139

  • Verizon owns the utility poles along the section of Route 139 being widened in Marshfield. The wires belong to Verizon, NStar and Comcast.
  • Verizon needed permission from private property owners before it could put up new poles. The negotiations caused delays, Verizon says.
  • The new poles were all up by January, but the old poles can’t come down until the new poles are wired.
  • NStar’s wires are on top and contain the most voltage, so they have to be moved first. NStar says that will require a controlled shutdown of electricity for each customer served by the old lines.
  • NStar says the new wires should be up and running this summer.
  • After NStar is finished, Comcast and Verizon can move their wires to the new poles.
  • After the old poles are removed, the holes filled and the road repaved, Route 139 can open to four lanes of traffic.