Land acquisition of transmission lines

photo of biker on trail under tall towers

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Transmission ROWs offer a unique opportunity to provide public spaces that can be relatively easily obtained, especially when considering the often insurmountable barriers present when reclaiming urban spaces for public use.

See a photo gallery of Electric transmission lines along trails, railtrails, and greenways

See more resources on utility corridors and trail land acquisition

By Will Kirby, Transmission Engineer, Burns & McDonnell

Transmission lines along Denver's Cherry Creek trail

As more and more people flock to urban areas, open spaces are fast becoming inadequate. This greater urban population has led to a number of other issues: sprawl, traffic congestion, pollution, isolated neighborhoods, and overstrained public infrastructure. Public spaces, parks and trails do not always make a top priority during municipal budgeting, but they are one thing people will almost always agree there could be more of.

Urban real estate is an extremely valuable commodity, and if the land was not claimed for public recreational use years ago, it is likely to never happen. Residents place a very high value on having open spaces and recreational areas in cities, but typically are not willing to have a city spend exorbitant amounts in order to provide them.

One major solution to this dilemma can be found in carved out corridors which are mostly ignored: power transmission line right of ways (ROWs). Today there are dozens of public walking and biking trails that follow transmission ROWs, but with proper guidance, awareness, and demonstrated successes there could be hundreds more for the public to enjoy.

During the early to mid-twentieth century when many cities and counties were buying up property for parks and public spaces, public power utilities were buying up transmission right of ways (ROWs). These transmission ROWs can range greatly in length and width, and can also vary greatly in ownership structure. ROWs often share the corridor with other infrastructure such as railroads, roads, pipelines, underground utilities, and waterways.

As one might imagine, the property ownership and agreements can get complex, some dating back over a century. This could make putting a trail through such a quagmire very time consuming and expensive. Depending on who actually owns the property (sometimes the land is just leased by the utility via an easement), the cost and difficulty of obtaining permission for public use could increase exponentially.

On the Washington & old Dominion Trail in northern Virginia

However in cases where the city owns the ROW, a trail may have a much more favorable chance of succeeding by allowing the city to expand their recreational facilities at relatively low cost. Some existing trails such as these were accomplished with little more than a handshake or general agreement.


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Q&A

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How much forested land will be cut for the new transmission line?

We currently estimate that approximately 250 hectares (620 acres) will be cut. Forestry crews selectively cut trees from the right-of-way, but shrubs and low-growing trees will be retained where possible. The right-of-way will then be stabilized with a cover crop following cutting. All trees which will, at maturity, grow within 6 meters of the conductor (in practice 95% of trees) will be cut for the new line. The remaining 5% of trees are "selected" for retention. These are important because they are often in environmentally sensitive valleys or along fencerows (windbreaks).


Will Hydro…