Racing past pole position

Saturday, July 26, 2003

Not even a utility pole can stand in the way of progress on the Mount Auburn Road widening project.

The contractor -- Lappe Cement Finishing of Perryville, Mo. -- simply paved around a utility pole that stands in the middle of a new right-turn lane for a Burger King restaurant rather than wait for it to be relocated.

"It is kind of goofy-looking," said Mark Lester, Cape Girardeau city engineer.

"We're thinking about putting a clown on it and taking orders," he said, joking.

But it's no joking matter to Russell Lappe, who owns the cement finishing company. He said paving contractors' projects are routinely hampered by utility companies that are slow to relocate poles and lines.

AmerenUE says the utility pole can't be moved until all the utility lines -- telephone, cable TV, etc. -- are relocated.

But Lappe said that's not a good excuse.

"All they are doing is passing the buck. They all knew as much as a year in advance that it was going to happen," he said of the utility relocations.

Lappe said his crews paved the area around the utility pole within the last two to three weeks. He said it was better to pave around the pole than to leave a large, unpaved section where water could get underneath the concrete and damage the street.

Utility companies have been slow to relocate lines up and down the street, hampering sidewalk construction as part of the project, he said.

Once the pole is moved, construction workers will have to fill in the hole and pave it.

Lester said AmerenUE moved a number of utility poles at the beginning of the $377,579 street paving project. The contractor began work in March.

But it wasn't until after the project started that the city agreed to include a turn lane for the Burger King restaurant as part of the widening project, necessitating moving this particular utility pole, Lester said.

AmerenUE moved its own utility lines off the pole earlier this week, said Mike Cleary, a spokesman for the company in Jefferson City.

But he said the pole can't be moved until all utility companies that use the pole move their lines. "There may be cable TV or phone lines on that pole," Cleary said. "That's why it's still here."

Cleary said relocating utility poles is a common occurrence with road projects.

"They're really a can of worms. It costs us money to move poles," he said.

The road project involves widening four-lane Mount Auburn Road to provide a needed left-turn lane in the center of the busy road, extending from William to Independence streets. The project includes installation of traffic signals at the Mount Auburn Road-Independence intersection.

The work is expected to be completed by October.

335-6611, extension 123

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