- Report Published -
|A Study of the Overhead High Voltage Line Safety Act|
|Department of Transportation|
|HJR 129 (Regular Session, 1994)|
|The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) became concerned when it began incurring costs for safety arrangements when performing work on the highway right of way. Since many of the utility facilities are located on the right of way by permit, (utilities agree to move at their cost) VDOT is faced with a conflict between its permit agreement and § 59.1-410 of the "Code of Virginia." The "Code" provides that the party initiating the work shall pay.|
The 1994 session of the General Assembly passed House Joint Resolution HJR 129 and requested that the Virginia Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the electric utilities, study:
1) How the use of public rights of way for overhead power lines by electric utilities impacts highway construction and maintenance activities.
2) Any legislative or administrative action that might be necessary to ensure that safety arrangements can be made to protect persons working in close proximity to those lines without adding undue costs to the Department of Transportation and municipalities.
3) The consistency between § 59.1-410 and pre-existing agreements entered into as a condition of use.
A committee was established with a VDOT representative serving as the chairman. The committee was comprised of two contractor representatives, representatives from the two major power companies and an electric cooperative a representative of the Virginia Road and Transportation Builders Association, and VDOT staff from the affected specialty areas.
The electric utility representatives generally agreed that existing agreements and property rights laws should prevail in determine the requirements before putting the project out for bids.
There were also some discussions regarding a contractor's use of his own equipment as opposed to having to rent equipment to meet the clearances arranged y the contracting party.
The representatives from VDOT's staff were most concerned with how to plan for adequate clearance during construction when the successful bidder and his method were unknown. All felt that it was appropriate to recognize prior agreements when determining who should bear the cost of safety arrangements or relocations.
The utility, contractor and VDOT representatives agreed that when work was required solely for the convenience of the contractor that the contractor should pay. The contractors felt that the contracting party (VDOT, city, county or town) should make such determination, because the contractor is under contract to one of those parties. They felt that the contract provided procedures to question any determination in which they do not agree.
There were also discussions regarding the clarity of other sections of the Overhead High Voltage Line Safety Act and the benefit of some of the procedural provisions. The Act specifies a ten-foot clearance regardless of voltage, while both the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration's regulations have ten feet as the minimum but greater clearances with higher voltages.
The committee agreed that a recommendation should be put forth to change the minimum distance to recognize Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Administration's regulations; to distinguish the responsible paying party by prior rights or agreement; and to eliminate recording the utilities name with the clerk's office.
The draft changes to the statute recommended by the committee are contained in Appendix C of this report and discussions of the recommendations are contained in the Conclusions and Recommendations section.
The participation of the electric utility companies, the electric cooperatives, contractors, Virginia Road and Transportation Builders Association and others, provided for a very detailed review of the Act and recommendations to enhance its purpose.