Q: We live in the Kutztown area and use Route 222 eastbound several times a month. Just about a half-mile after we pass the Terry Hill water park on the right side of 222, there are several utility poles leaning toward the highway. We've noticed this since the early snowstorm of October 2011 and subsequent heavy rains. Who owns these poles, and are they not required to inspect this type of situation periodically as a matter of preventive maintenance? This could be a serious road hazard should one of those poles decide to pull out of the ground and land on any passing cars.
— Carol Mack, Rockland Township, Berks County
A: You're right, Carol, two of the familiar wood utility poles are leaning heavily toward the road there, along the south side of the 9600 block of northbound (geographically eastbound) Route 222, just east of the Schantz Road intersection and the sprawling TEK Park property.
When I went behind the poles (to the south) to find out what was going on, I was surprised to find each of the angled poles secured by a polyurethane (or some kind of plastic) rope, one end tied near the top of the pole, the other attached to an inch-thick steel rod sledge-hammered into the ground and angled away from the pole.
The tie-down job seemed to offer a Hummer of a hint that the situation is temporary, and indeed it is.
PPL Corp. is in the process of replacing the two poles, company spokesman Joe Nixon said. They were simply worn out, having reached the end of their useful lives, he said, though all the wet weather you mention from late last year could have fueled their demise, Carol. Nixon said the poles were leaning when the work crew arrived in April. Perhaps the weather conditions smoothed their road to the junk yard.
There's an unusual topographical condition on that side of the road, as several tall mounds rise along the path of the utility poles and wires. I'm not sure if they're natural or man-made, though I can't imagine why anyone would have built them there, at the edge of a road bordered by rolling farmland.
In any event, the PPL workers replaced the shorter, 35-foot poles on the mounds with new 50-foot poles on level ground, Nixon said. That seems like a good choice; there's a lot of shale in the area, and it doesn't appear to my untrained eye that the mounds provide a great deal of stability. The single electrical line (the electrical lines are always on top, with any other utility lines mounted lower on the poles) was moved to the new poles, but the individual utility companies are responsible for moving their own lines.
The old poles will be removed, but before that happens, workers from Verizon and Service Electric Cable TV need to move their respective lines from the leaning poles to the new models put in by PPL, Nixon said. Service Electric was notified in July, and is expected to have its lines moved by the end of this month, and Verizon should follow, Nixon said.
"When that is done, we'll go in and remove" the old poles, he said.
It seems to be taking quite a while, but based on my experience, that's not so unusual. Rightly or wrongly, coordinating work schedules between the various state, municipal and private road- and utility-work agencies and companies often seems to create speed bumps for project completion. Schedule coordination problems also can result in newly repaved roads being dug up sooner than they should be.
Meanwhile, Nixon said the rods are secure, and the leaning poles on Route 222 are in no danger of falling down. I'm not sure if they're long enough to reach the road if they would fall, even from atop the little hills, but I wouldn't want to risk it either way.
I've seen utility poles "on the diagonal" from time to time, but those cases mostly involve heavily-laden poles that require extra support, and the angled pole is attached near the top, its opposite end embedded in the ground. That's a permanent condition sometimes called a "push brace."
Some fellow warriors have reported damaged poles temporarily stabilized by rope, and Nixon said the procedure is used on occasion until a permanent solution can be effected.
I trust the leaning towers of 222 will be removed as soon as possible, Carol.
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