Modernizing Roanoke City’s Underground Grid

In 1945, eight years before the establishment of New River Electrical Corp., Roanoke City’s population was in the midst of growing from around 69,000 to 92,000 in population. This growth required the construction of a strong underground electrical network to power the surge in business and residents in the downtown area. 

Fast forward to 2015, Roanoke’s population hung around 97,000 and the system had served the city well, but was working beyond its limits with the resurgence of business pulling power from the grid. New River Electrical Corp. was contracted to take on the 4 year project to replace 15 miles of underground cable and update most of the original equipment. 

Exceeding Expectations Through Efficiencies

At the start of the project, Roanoke was experiencing outages and underground fires as a result of the worn out equipment. Temporary patches that had been put in place were no longer reliable. The New River Electrical crew knew they couldn’t waste any time restoring the network to tip top shape. Under the leadership of Harold Snapp, Project Manager, five crews work around 32,000 man hours to complete the job a year earlier than expected. 

“We only had one crew to start with and as work picked up, we ended up with five crews, totaling in 20 men,” says Harold. “The core crew moved up to the foreman positions to lead the crews. The system worked really well and we kept the customer and most of the businesses downtown happy.”

Staying Safe in a High Traffic Area

Businesses, residents, and municipal departments depend heavily on the network, so minimizing disruption and power loss was a priority: “The network had to be hot all the time, because we couldn’t just turn off their power,” says Harold. “We had to work with everything energized and replace the new cables before removing the old cables. It required a lot of concentration and skill from our men. They’re the ones that made this successful.”

Working with live cables wasn’t the only safety concern on this job. Public safety is always a priority in all of NRE’s projects.  Because of the high traffic nature of the downtown area and access points to the network being primarily on sidewalks and roadways, they had to coordinate carefully. 

Larry Stover, general foreman on the project, worked closely with the utility company and traffic control team to redirect traffic away from the job sites. He also played an integral role in assuring that the crews had their materials ordered well ahead of time to stay on the expedited schedule. 

“Working on sidewalks and in turning lanes, we developed ways of barricading everything so that pedestrians couldn’t get close to our work and cars had clear signage,” Harold adds. “We make sure we’re always aware of our surroundings and that remind our guys that we’re representing our company and the utility company.”

The new grid spreads from Williamson Road to the edge of the West End and from Norfolk Road all the way to Walnut Avenue. Downtown Roanoke can count on safe and reliable power for the next 30 to 40 years thanks to the talented crews at New River Electric.