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Underground Program FAQs

The Underground Program began in 1968 with a goal to beautify Pasadena and restore the scenic views of the San Gabriel Mountains. Since its inception, the City has removed overhead electric, telephone, and cable TV utility lines from more than 46 miles of major arterial streets. PWP manages two undergrounding programs: Undergrounding Utility Districts (Underground Program) to continue this beautification effort, and the Electric System Conversion Program used to upgrade or expand the city's power grid.

Find the answers to some of the Underground Program's most Frequently Asked Questions here:  

Q: What are the benefits of undergrounding? 
A: Undergrounding is intended to provide a safer, more reliable power system by protecting equipment and reducing the chance of power outages due to trees, vehicle accidents and other hazards. Removing above-ground power lines and poles also helps safeguard pedestrians and motorists. The undergrounding program has restored Pasadena’s trademark mountain views while beautifying and enhancing the character of our neighborhoods.

Q: What are the challenges of undergrounding? 
A:  The primary challenges are cost and schedule. Underground circuits are more expensive and time consuming to build and maintain. Additionally, construction and repair of underground utility services is more disruptive to traffic, local residents and businesses. There is also an added challenge in coordinating construction with telecommunication companies who have placed their own components on the power lines. Their equipment is often large and difficult to move underground. Although underground electrical services tend to have fewer unplanned outages, when outages do occur, they take longer to locate and repair.

Q: How do you choose what areas are undergrounded? 
A: The Pasadena City Council is authorized to designate Underground Utility Districts through public hearings and resolution, based on public necessity, health, safety or welfare. All streets are evaluated based on the underground criteria listed below, which was adopted by the City Council in April 2003:

  • Streets where overhead lines are deteriorated and need replacement.
  • Streets where power lines are in conflict with tree and structural clearance.
  • Streets where there is a higher risk of fire hazards.
  • Streets where major street construction is planned.
  • Streets where new or expanded power facilities are needed.

The streets are then prioritized and organized into two categories, Category I and II.

Q: What is the difference between Category I and II streets? 
A: Category I streets include heavily used arterial and collector streets with a concentration of power lines and streets near civic areas, city landmarks and public recreation areas. Telephone and cable companies are required to cooperate and cofund their respective cost share for undergrounding Category I streets.

Category II streets include residential streets and alleys. These streets will take longer and cost more to construct, and in many cases may not be suitable for undergrounding at all. Pasadena must bear the full cost of undergrounding all utilities, including telephone and cable services, on Category II streets. Construction on Category II streets will only begin once Category I streets have been completed.

Click for a detailed map of Category I and Category II streets that have been identified as candidates for undergrounding in the future.

Q: How long will it take to complete each Utility Underground District? 
A: Given the current funding structure and timeline, PWP can complete approximately 0.5 to 0.7 miles of construction per year. The scale, cost, and timeline of each Utility Underground District project varies, but all affected neighborhoods will be given ample information on the specific project before construction begins. Generally, it will take an estimated 100 years to complete undergrounding the remaining Category I streets. Work on Category II streets would likely not commence until after Category I streets have been completed. According to that construction timeline, Category II streets would be completed in approximately 400 years. For more information on how the timeline is selected, visit the Underground Program page.

Current Underground Program Timeline:  

Q: How is the Underground Program funded? 
A: Initial construction costs are funded through an Underground Surtax on electric bills. As of now, the Surtax ranges from 1.21% to 4.34% of the total charges depending on your monthly electric usage. For a typical 500 kwh-per-month residential customer, the Underground Surtax is about $44 per year.

Q: What does the Program cost?
A: Undergrounding a street costs approximately $90,000 per property converted, or about $10-12 million per mile. It would cost about $2 billion to complete all feasible streets in Pasadena. Actual construction costs may vary, depending on a number circumstances including type of property to be converted, quality of terrain, and category of street. Ongoing maintenance and operating costs are funded from electric rate revenues collected from PWP’s customers.

Q: I don’t currently live in an Underground Utility District. Can I request undergrounding for my neighborhood? 
A: If a Pasadena neighborhood is interested in undergrounding, property owners may submit a petition of interest signed by all potentially affected residents to participate in the City’s Cost Sharing Program through the establishment of a Benefit Assessment District. Property owners would incur 100% of all administrative costs, underground construction costs includes 50% power and 100% telephone. The City would incur the remaining 50% of underground construction cost for power only. City staff will conduct a preliminary utility study to determine feasibility and projected construction costs. The study will require a sundry deposit, in which the deposit amount is based on the required staff time to complete the study. If you are interested in participating in the Benefit Assessment District, please contact Bill Varsh at wvarsh@cityofpasadena.net.

Underground Program Maps