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PG&E pipeline project wrapped up by November
Whitmore Avenue has faced an onslaught of disruptions as PG&E replaces a major gas line down the center of the busy road. - photo by Courier file photo

Ceres residents may not appreciate the traffic disruptions along Whitmore Avenue but the aggravation should be tempered by knowing the gas line that runs through the heart of town won't be rupturing like the one in San Bruno on Sept. 9, 2010. The loss of eight lives and 38 homes was due to a PG&E gas line that ruptured, exploded and created a firestorm in a residential area.

After the San Bruno pipeline failure, PG&E was required to re-evaluate how it determines the maximum operating pressure for 1,800 miles of pipeline in California. The California Public Utilities Commission asked PG&E to show their lines had been tested or examined in a way that could prove the pipeline can withstand the current maximum operating pressure. In response to the explosion and a subsequent decision by the California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E unveiled a plan in August 2011 to modernize and enhance safety of its gas transmission operations over several years, including strength testing over 700 miles of pipe, replacing 185 miles, and upgrading another 200 miles or so to allow in-line inspection.

The PG&E plan was divided into two phases. The first phase, scheduled to end in 2014, targeted pipeline segments in urban areas, those not built to modern standards, and those which had not been strength tested.

Project funding of $769 million was the subject of a PG&E application for a three-year increase in gas rates starting January 2012.

Richard Dye, PG&E's Government Relations Representative said PG&E's line down Whitmore Avenue to Hughson varies in age, dating back to the 1930s to the 1970s. Because it ranges in size from six to eight inches, it cannot accommodate "smart pigs," a robotic video camera to check line integrity. So the company decided to replace the line.

The $50 million project involved trenching down Whitmore Avenue from the freeway to Hughson, then down Santa Fe and Geer to Turlock to replace an important gas line that serves all three communities.

The Ceres gas line replacement is scheduled to be completed in the middle to late November, said City Engineer Toby Wells.

The new line is 12 inches in diameter and is being planted 15 to 20 feet from the old gas line, which will be left in place in the interim because it supplies gas users in Hughson and Turlock. Once the new gas line is installed and used, the old line will then be abandoned and left buried in the ground.

The last section to be completed is the section between Third Street and the Highway 99 offramp. That will create disruptions around Ceres High School for weeks but the contractor on the project has pledged to keep the intersections of Whitmore and Central avenues and Whitmore Avenue and Third Street open.

The northbound 99 offramp may be affected as well.
The gas line under the freeway was replaced with the interchange construction prior to 2011.

Richard Dye, PG&E's Government Relations Representative, said the project installs 10 miles of new pipeline from Ceres High School to Hughson before going to Geer Road down to Turlock, and make the road surface appear seamless in the process.