San Rafael secures PG&E funding for Canal Area underground utilities upgrade

(UI) —A transformative change may be on the horizon for Canal Street in San Rafael, California, as plans are underway to eliminate the unsightly overhead utility lines, the Marin Independent Journal reported.

A proposal is taking shape to remove and replace utility poles, with the intention of burying power lines beneath the street's surface. The objective is to conceal all utilities from view along the stretch between Medway Road and Spinnaker Point Drive, as well as a few adjacent side streets.

To facilitate the project's progression, the San Rafael City Council has unanimously approved the establishment of an underground utility district for the designated area. This strategic move enables the city to leverage funding provided by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

According to the Marin Independent Journal, Councilmember Eli Hill expressed during the council's meeting on Tuesday, "I believe this is the right site given the criteria that we must follow. I think this will have, hopefully, a huge impact."

The funding for this initiative originates from "Rule 20a," a regulation set by the California Public Utilities Commission. This rule mandates that PG&E allocate a specific number of work credits annually, intended for communities to undertake the task of relocating overhead electrical lines underground.

To take advantage of these credits, a city must designate an underground district where it plans to embark on a project of this nature.

The funds given in 2019 were initially planned for a project along Manuel T. Freitas Parkway. The municipal council authorized the creation of an underground district during that time and had access to $5.2 million for use.

The project's scope did, however, include burying utilities from Highway 101 to Montecillo Road, which came at a hefty cost of $11 million. PG&E announced the suspension of credit allotments last year. As a result, the city's maximum possible allocation would be $5.7 million.

The underground project is projected to cost around $4.2 million, according to municipal engineer Kwok. However, due to its placement outside of a region with a high wildfire danger, PG&E does not view it as a high priority. Construction won't start for another five to seven years as a result.

San Rafael has plans for a sizable community renovation program that includes lamps, sidewalks, transit stations, and cycling lanes in addition to the undergrounding project. For this project, the city has recently obtained grant financing of $4.1 million, with a planned start date in the fiscal year 2026–2027.

In order to take advantage of the chance to simplify the whole project, as indicated by Kwok, city officials are hoping that PG&E would speed up the undergrounding process to coincide with the existing street construction.

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