Rebuilding an Aged Power Line to Provide Infrastructure Reliability

Eight years into my career, I have spent more than half of them on one project. This project is a huge undertaking by an energy client to rebuild a 500 kilovolt (kV) electric transmission line that was originally constructed and energized in the 1960s. The 500 kV line begins in Mount Storm, West Virginia, and spans 64 miles, ending in Augusta County, Virginia. The line had been in operation for over 50 years and needed to be rebuilt to maintain reliability for customers. In addition to new conductors, the project replaced 261 structures along the line.

When the project began, our client planned on utilizing their typical process of mapping the transmission line with access maps and erosion and sediment control maps. However, the project proved to be more complicated than previous rebuilds, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) requested full construction plans that addressed potential environmental impacts, such as land disturbance and tree clearing, and detailed access road designs.

Our team stepped in to quickly develop the first phase of a civil engineering design package that addressed these concerns, however, the final scope of the project included much more than that. In total, our team designed over 80 miles of access roads and supported with multiple services, including:

  • Survey services
    • Field survey and lidar survey support
    • Construction stakeout
    • Penetrometer testing
  • Civil construction documents
    • Road plans, profiles, and cross sections
    • Erosion and sediment control design
    • Stormwater drainage design
  • Structural services, including bridge abutment design
  • Permitting support 
    • U.S. Forest Service road use permit
    • West Virginia DEP permit 
    • Virginia DEQ permit


As expected, with such a substantial project, there will be challenges to overcome. To tackle the large scope of this project, multiple Dewberry offices from Virginia and North Carolina came together to collaborate and contribute their services. Staff from our Danville, Gainesville, Leesburg, and Richmond offices in Virginia, and Charlotte and Raleigh offices in North Carolina, aided in the various aspects of the access road design.

On the technical side, the biggest challenge we faced was designing the access roads within the constraints of the mountainous terrain, sensitive species habitats, and landowner requirements. Most of the route used existing access roads, mostly comprising private dirt roads or U.S. Forest Service gravel access roads. However, due to decades of inadequate maintenance, most of the roads were impassable in a standard vehicle, let alone one with large construction equipment. Our team redesigned over 80 miles of access roads in order to support the transmission line rebuild, in addition to large construction pads to support tower construction and line pulling. As the client’s project manager likes to joke, “this project is actually a road building project that happens to include a transmission line rebuild."

In addition to the engineering and logistical challenges, our team occasionally stepped into more educational roles, including leading meetings with stakeholders. We used these technical meetings to present to stakeholders, our client, and other agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, about the reasoning behind design decisions we proposed throughout the project. These deep-dive meetings helped increase understanding, foster communication between permitting and construction representatives, and ultimately obtain plan approvals.

Benefit to Community

This project positively impacts communities in the region who rely on these stations. 500 kV power lines are the backbone of electric transmission and updating them provides strong infrastructure that can maintain resiliency and reliability for many years to come.

Additionally, the improvements to the previously unmaintained access roads provide a benefit to the surrounding communities. Many of the access roads in West Virginia are located on private property where our client holds easements; therefore, many roads on individuals’ private property were improved at no cost to the owners. In Virginia, the U.S. Forest Service at George Washington National Forest was very vocal about the benefits of the road reconstruction, sharing how the roads were unmaintained due to a lack of funding. The access roads used for the power line rebuild provide access to public land in the national forest, which residents can use recreationally for hunting, camping, or hiking. The road reconstruction completed as part of this project provides improved public access without depending on federal funding.

Team Camaraderie

This project was also a great benefit to our team. It helped open the door to similar new opportunities, proving our team has the capabilities to undertake projects of this scale, as well as adapt to sensitive environmental issues, challenging permit processes, and difficult terrain.

Most importantly, however, this project created strong connections and camaraderie across our team, including with the client. We have spent four years on the project together, and while it was not always easy, some of the best connections are formed in the trenches. I am grateful to have spent a large portion of my career with a project that allowed me to learn so much while creating friendships along the way.