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State: MTA and city should participate in safety program

A state program that helps prevent potentially devastating accidents like manhole explosions and utility outages is missing two key participants — the city and the MTA.

Con Ed, Verizon and dozens of other companies participate in the nonprofit safety program, called DigNet of New York City and Long Island, and the state thinks its about time that stragglers get onboard.

“The department would strongly encourage the MTA to join the one-call system,” said James Denn, a spokesman for the state Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities.
By law, those in the program must alert excavators about sensitive locations underground before they start digging.

Rooting below the streets can cause all kinds of problems, such as the gas leak in Brooklyn that trigged manhole explosions and disrupted subway service last January. The cause of the explosion is still under investigation, Denn said.

“It’s obvious. Everyone should participate in the program because the cost of not doing so is just extravagant,” said Robert Paaswell, an engineer who directs the University Transportation Research Center at CUNY, who thought the MTA should especially join given all the subway construction underway.

The MTA works with all excavators digging near its properties and is carefully relocating utilities around projects like the Second Avenue Subway, agency spokesman Kevin Ortiz said. Participating in DigNet would force the cash-strapped agency to “hire hundreds of people and purchase dozens of vehicles” to respond to slews of information requests, Ortiz said.

The city Department of Transportation did not respond to requests for comment.

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