Trail Development Below Transmission Lines

by Will Kirby on May 21, 2015

Developing Open Spaces Below TransmissionThe world’s urban population is growing. According to the World Health Organization, 54 percent of people lived in urban areas in 2014, up from 34 percent in 1960.

As people flock to cities, they find fewer open spaces to enjoy. This has health experts worried. Studies show people’s brain waves differ when they spend time outdoors rather than within the built environment; people who live near open spaces are typically more physically active.

Often, providing green space is a secondary consideration for city planners focused on such issues as urban sprawl, traffic congestion, pollution, isolated neighborhoods and overburdened infrastructure. While urban citizens want and can benefit from open space, it’s not usually a top priority in municipal budgets. So what’s the solution?

Urban leaders can find one answer in the mostly ignored, carved-out corridors of power transmission line right of ways (ROWs). I explored the issue in a recent story for American Trails.

Opportunities Below the Lines

If land isn’t already claimed for public recreational use, it’s unlikely it will ever be. Urban real estate is just too pricy. While residents place a high value on open spaces in cities, they typically aren’t willing to have a city spend exorbitant amounts to provide them.

A century ago, as cities bought property for parks and public spaces, public power utilities did the same for transmission ROWs. Sometimes these corridors are shared with other infrastructure — railroads, roads, pipelines, underground utilities and waterways. As you can imagine, property ownership issues can be complex. But the opportunity is often worth the time investment.

Transmission line ROWs can provide a shortcut, with expansive spaces already present in built-up areas. Today, dozens of walking and biking trails follow transmission ROWs. With proper guidance, awareness and demonstrated success, hundreds more could follow.

Overcoming Barriers to Successful Trail Projects

The first step for community officials is to determine who owns the property. Sometimes a utility merely leases the land via an easement. When the city owns the ROW, a trail likely has a more favorable chance of succeeding because the city can expand recreational facilities at relatively low costs.

The American Trails article outlines additional (but solvable) challenges:

  • If a utility owns the land, representatives may have concerns about liability and vandalism. Residents may worry about electromagnetic fields (EMF). Both parties must feel reassured that appropriate safeguards are in place.
  • Partnerships can be developed and maximized to mutually benefit multiple stakeholders. One example: While the city receives a wonderful addition to the trails system, assisting in the development can be an asset to a utility’s brand.

Hiking and Biking Trails for the Future

Recently, a state bill passed allowing for a 100-mile bicycle interstate along existing power transmission line routes. This project is planned not for a biking mecca like Seattle or Portland, but within the city of Houston.

Trails like these are becoming more mainstream. Other successful projects around the nation have resulted from the efforts of residents seeking to improve the livability and recreational profile of their cities. Everyone — residents, utility companies, city employees and politicians — can have a voice to spur on these transmission trail projects

There is no single solution for transmission trails, but with open minds and carefully constructed agreements, these projects can be a great addition to any city. Would a transmission trail work in your community? Let us know what you think.

Will Kirby is a transmission engineer for Burns & McDonnell, specializing in the design and analysis of overhead transmission and distribution lines. Reach out to Will on LinkedIn.

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EPC Firms Ranked on Client Satisfaction: Burns & McDonnell Comes Out on TopFor power generation clients looking for a single responsible entity to provide an on-time and on-budget project delivery, the engineer-procure-construct (EPC) method continues to gain ground. Clients are increasingly taking advantage of the benefits of EPC delivery.

But just how well are EPC firms across the nation serving their clients? A recent comprehensive survey of North American power generation companies looked to find the answer. We’re proud to say the survey identified Burns & McDonnell as a bright spot, especially our ability to provide excellent value.

Overall, the report shows that client satisfaction with EPC firms is weakening. Since the initial report published in 2012, client satisfaction has dropped from 26 percent to 19.7 percent, with many clients cautioning against, rather than recommending, a firm.

On the flip side, many clients have formed successful EPC partnerships. The study showed clients are quite happy with Burns & McDonnell’s work, ranking the firm highest in three of eight categories measuring performance among the 32 largest EPC firms in North America. Burns & McDonnell was the only firm receiving a top ranking in more than one category.

Burns & McDonnell ranked highest in:

  • Excellent value
  • Exceptional company
  • Quality products and services

Published in the December issue of Power Engineering magazine, the 2014 survey incorporated feedback from more than 60 top executives at most of the country’s largest investor-owned and publicly owned utilities and energy companies.

The survey included a focus on Client Advocate Score (CAS), or how likely a client is to recommend a firm’s services to a colleague. Burns & McDonnell’s performance was especially gratifying in a generally challenging EPC market, where client satisfaction hovers below 20 percent.

The majority of EPC firms earned low marks when it comes to providing excellent value. Day in and day out we strive to provide cost-effective solutions for our clients, so it’s gratifying to be one of only three firms to rank high in this category, especially as more power generators begin to look more closely at pricing when making their ultimate decisions.

Burns & McDonnell also received rankings of “excellent” in:

  • Successfully employs state-of-the-art technology
  • Presents a practical approach to contracts
  • Employs superior internal project management
  • Maintains strong working relationships
  • Provides responsive service

One thing that’s clear from this report? It validates that we’ve been doing things the right way for many years. We work hard to understand what the client needs and wants on every project and we don’t stop until we deliver on what we said we would do.

I’d like to learn more about your needs and how we can help. Please comment below or send me an email.

Rick Halil is senior vice president and general manager of Burns & McDonnell’s Energy division.

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