Overhead utility lines aren’t very pretty, and they don’t always fare well in a hurricane. For those two reasons, the City of Myrtle Beach pioneered the underground utility fund more than 20 years ago, to pay for retrofitting the overhead utilities.
Miles of wires and poles have been converted to underground connections, in partnership with our local electrical utility, Santee Cooper. The concept has been so successful that it’s been modeled by other communities and electricity providers in both Carolinas, who copied Myrtle Beach’s idea.
Retrofitting overhead lines is not inexpensive. It also involves other utility companies that may or may not have the interest and resources, including telephone and cable systems. We typically have covered much of the cost of putting their lines underground, too.
The cost per mile to convert overhead lines to underground is approximately $1 million. Santee Cooper and the City of Myrtle Beach committed a portion of the franchise fee toward this expense. Meanwhile, hundreds of acres of new construction have been placed underground at the developers’ expense.
With Santee Cooper’s assistance, Myrtle Beach already has placed overhead lines underground on 60 blocks of Ocean Boulevard, 25 blocks of Kings Highway, 10 blocks around HGTC’s Grand Strand campus, the length of Mr. Joe White Avenue and portions of Oak, Grissom and 21st Avenue North. Pampas Drive is pictured here, before and after the conversion.
The cost to date for the retrofitting alone, not including any of the new construction, is north of $33 million. City Council has prioritized the locations where underground conversion will occur, choosing the most visible and most heavily traveled roads, as well as the most heavily wired, to have the greatest benefit and effect.
The next approved locations include the Arts & Innovation District, which is currently under construction downtown, and South Kings Highway, from Third to Ninth Avenues South, as funding allows.
Putting utilities underground initially is more expensive than poles and wires, but it’s still cheaper than retrofitting existing overhead lines. Back when Myrtle Beach began putting lines underground, City Council also passed a law requiring that all new construction must have underground utilities, with the exception of major transmission lines.
That’s why all of the new developments for the past two decades have featured underground utilities. This includes projects such as the Market Common area neighborhoods, Grande Dunes and large commercial developments, including Coastal Grand Mall.