Coordination by AzGT linemen keeps traffic flowing

(BENSON, AZ) Most of us understand the pressure of deadlines and limited time as we complete a project at work. But for Arizona Generation and Transmission Cooperatives (AzGT) linemen, some tasks must be done as traffic in both directions of an interstate highway sits and waits.

AzGT journeyman linemen Tony Ferraro and Dustin Benavides detach the third power line from its insulator and attach it to the pole. The other two power lines are attached to the pole behind them. Then they will change the crossarms.

“You feel a lot of pressure as far as getting done so that they can get traffic started again so that you don’t have traffic backed up a long ways and people waiting a long time,” said Dustin Benavides, one of the journeyman linemen for AzGT who worked directly from an elevated bucket to replace both of the crossarms on a transmission pole. “We want to do it right and we want to do it safely.”

The crossarms are on transmission poles along the Sahuarita-Bicknell 230 kV line that crosses Interstate 19. Highway patrol officers from the Arizona Department of Public Safety stopped traffic twice during these procedures. The first time was while the linemen disconnected the power lines from the insulators that are connected to the crossarms and then secured them to the pole. After that, traffic resumed and they could then change the crossarms. The second time traffic had to be stopped was when the linemen reconnected the power lines to the insulators that were now attached to the new crossarms.

An officer with the Department of Public Safety stops northbound traffic on I-19 while linemen detach lines from insulators on a crossarm. Traffic was stopped in both directions for less than fifteen minutes.

“We have about a 15-minute window to do it, and I think we did one in 11 minutes today and we put it back and it took about seven minutes,” Benavides said.

The linemen change crossarms when they are cracked and split. They will also change them when there is a lot of woodpecker damage. They performed this work in April before the high electricity demand of the summer months began and a downed power line could have a greater impact.

The last few cars pass under the Sahuarita-Bicknell 230 kV line before I-19 is briefly closed and AzGT journeyman linemen can begin to detach the power lines from the insulators on the crossarms.

“We keep up on our maintenance. We try to identify problems before they happen,” Benavides said. “We have a very strong program as far as identifying and getting things changed out immediately when they need them instead of waiting until we’re out of power.”

Traffic on the I-19 frontage road must also stop while AzGT journeyman linemen detach the power lines from insulators on the crossarms. The Sahuarita-Bicknell 230 kV line stretches to the east.

ADOT requires the work to be done on Sundays when traffic is lighter. While the linemen changed the crossarms on the pole on the east side of I-19 on April 15, they had to do the same on the pole on the west side of the highway on April 29. Working on a Sunday didn’t faze Benavides.

“We do what we have to do. It’s just another day for us, pretty much. We work through weekends quite a bit and twelve-day trips, and whatever it takes to keep the power flowing,” he said.