Osceola County's W192 Development Authority is considering a plan to apply public funds to bury power lines in the tourism corridor -- a discussion that mirrors Orlando's efforts on International Drive.
The authority governs development standards and public investment along the 15-mile corridor. Executive Director David Buchheit said underground utilities have always been a part of the redevelopment district's master plan, but it was considered a low priority.
"It was listed as something we would be doing in year 20," he said. But during a recent workshop, several board members discussed moving it up on the priority list. The item will be on the agenda this Thursday.
"It may still take many, many years to get it done," Buchheit said. "If they want to move forward with it now, it would have to be done a small piece at a time. I see the value from an aesthetic point of view, but it's a major financial commitment. But you eat an elephant one bite at a time, right?"
Duke Energy spokeswoman Ana Gibbs told GrowthSpotter that installing underground powerlines can be 10 to 15 times more expensive than overhead lines. In 2013, the utility provided a non-binding estimate for the 1.5-mile segment between Interstate 4 and Poinciana Boulevard. That estimate was for $3.4 million and covered 8,000 linear feet, she said.
For some developers, it's worth the investment.
Hector Lizasuain, planning director for Magic Development and a member of the W192 Development Authority, said his firm plans to bury power lines at Magic Place, an upscale, branded community on 87 acres fronting W192. He wants the authority to find a way to partner with power companies.
"From a corridor standpoint, it's one thing for our project to have it, but you look left and right and they're still there," he said. "There has been a lot of focus on the cost, but I think they would be a lot more receptive if it were going to be a public-private partnership."
Gibbs said the construction of underground transmission lines demands the use of more expensive materials and requires precise installation and testing. The need to buy additional right-of-way can also drive up cost.
"While the installation of transmission lines underground presents a number of challenges, we will continue to evaluate each transmission project to determine the safest, most effective installation for our customers and our communities," she said.
Kissimmee Utility Authority serves the corridor from the city limits to just east of S.R. 535. KUA Spokesman Chris Gent said the utility's practice for the last decade has been to replace existing wood poles with reinforced concrete or steel poles.
Over the next two months, the Development Authority will revise its priority list before going into budget planning for FY2017. Other projects that could move up on the list include transit improvements (ex: Bus Rapid Transit) on the corridor, establishing design criteria for new construction, and incentives for residential development and for entertainment venues.