River Road Goes Underground

JEA recently completed the River Road Utility Conversion Project, undergrounding the utilities for six residential parcels along the southern end of River Road in San Marco. The project took more than a year to complete.

Resident Missie LePrell was involved in organizing the project for the homeowners, and said the six parcels were the last homes along River Road to undergo the process. Although some residents estimate that the undergrounding of utilities in the area started more than 20 years ago, the process was regularly revisited as new homes were constructed in the area.

“Of course, it’s an aesthetic enhancement to the property, no question,” said LePrell, who is also a broker associate for The Legends of Real Estate. “During storms, lines would come down, and it’s dangerous. Being underground is a big plus.”

Greg Corcoran, Manager Community Involvement & Project Outreach at JEA confirmed the benefits of undergrounding. “Generally, the property values are higher in the underground areas as we have seen home values increase in areas [where] these projects have been implemented.”

According to Corcoran, the process can take approximately 2.5 to 5 years, and is financed exclusively by the individuals requesting the service through the City of Jacksonville’s Neighborhood Assessment Program (NAP). JEA fronts the funding for these conversion projects and then uses NAP as a vehicle for customer financing over a 10- to 20-year period if homeowners opt not to pay the entire assessment upfront. NAP can also be used for other community-funded neighborhood projects such as sidewalk and drainage work.

JEA does contribute a portion of engineering and construction costs, depending on the age and condition of the existing equipment. However, JEA is limited on the number of projects it can support each year depending on budget – $4 million annually – and resources.

In 2021, JEA completed a similar project for 120 parcels along Ortega Boulevard, which also added antique lampposts during the undergrounding. John Donahoo, the Westside resident project organizer, said JEA was “terrific” during the planning process, even providing a “not-to-exceed” cost-estimate figure.

“If nothing else, it certainly confirms the fact that having the JEA as a locally-owned entity has its benefits,” said Donahoo.

Approval for a conversion project is a multi-step process involving both JEA and the City of Jacksonville. The special assessment option requires the participation agreement of at least 2/3 of property owners within a well-defined area of homes, led by a neighborhood captain. However, 100% of the property owners will be assessed a pro-rated portion of the total cost of the project. Before work begins, JEA assists the neighborhood captains with outlining the details and costs of the project, which then gets submitted to city council for approval.

District 5 Council Member LeAnna Cumber explained the need for the approval.

“To underground, it’s fully up to the homeowner, and the homeowner pays the full cost. In order for that to happen, the city pays it up front and then the homeowner pays it back. That contract between the homeowner and the city needs to be approved by council,” said Cumber. “I am fully supportive when homeowners choose to make these sorts of improvements and I’m glad there’s a mechanism set up at the city for people to take advantage of.”

Donahoo said his 2-year process was “well worth it.”

“Having lived here all my life and seeing the impact of several storms come through Jacksonville, those four or five days without electricity can be a little bit painful in August when we have 100% humidity,” he joked.

For more information on the under-grounding process, residents can visit jea.com/underground.

By Lindsey Gast
Resident Community News

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