Costs for high-voltage line skyrocket

CHAMPAIGN — What a difference 21 months makes.

In January 2010, Ameren Illinois estimated that the cost of building a 9.8-mile-long high-voltage line across southwest Champaign would be $14 million.

On Tuesday, Ameren Illinois spokesman Leigh Morris said the estimated cost of that "preferred" route had risen to $23.8 million.

There's also a 17.5-mile "alternative route" that in January 2010 was projected to cost $22 million.

The new cost estimate for that route — which would run south around the University of Illinois-Willard Airport — has jumped up to $38 million.

Both material and real-estate costs have gone up the past few years, said Jerry Murbarger, design engineer for the project.

Neither of the new estimates includes $6 million in improvements to the two substations that would be linked by the 138,000-volt line.

Area residents got a chance to talk with Ameren Illinois representatives Tuesday about the proposed power line and see detailed maps of the routes.

Two more meetings are scheduled Nov. 10 and Dec. 13 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign.

William and Kathryn Henderson of Urbana came to Tuesday's meeting to find out how close the line comes to farmland they own along Windsor Road in Champaign.

"It appears to run to the south and west of us," William Henderson said, adding that Ameren's "preferred" route lies about a mile to the south.

Sandra Broadrick-Allen, former village administrator in Savoy, came to make sure the line wasn't running along South First Street, where she and other members of her homeowners' association live.

"I can go back to the homeowners and say 'relax,'" she said.

Ameren Illinois says the new line is needed to avoid "cascading outages" and "volting collapses" in the years to come.

"The need is greater than what we would have said two years ago," Morris said.

The utility plans to file a case involving the line before the Illinois Commerce Commission in January 2012, and the commission has 150 to 225 days to determine a route.

Ameren Illinois would then seek easements and find contractors for the project. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2014 and be finished by June 2015.

The utility would recover its costs through riders paid by all Ameren Illinois electric customers.

The line would connect the Bondville substation with the Southwest Campus substation near the southwest corner of the University of Illinois campus.

The "preferred" route would cross ground owned by about 40 landowners, according to Ameren Illinois.

The utility could not immediately say how many landowners might be affected by the "alternative" route.

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