SHAMOKIN - Snow removal started downtown this week, beginning a project to replace street lights along Independence Street.

PPL Electric Utilities hired Michels Power, based in Neenah, Wisc., as the primary contractor to perform the electrical work, which involves replacing 44 street lights between Shamokin and Market streets.

Pioneer Construction Co., a subcontractor, will perform the mechanical work.

The Honesdale firm was expected to wrap up snow removal Friday between Liberty and Shamokin streets, clearing the way to mark the street for the underground lines.

"If Mother Nature cooperates and allows the PA One Call markings, Pioneer is scheduled to begin saw-cutting and removing pavement and excavating soil next week," said Teri MacBride, PPL Susquehanna Valley community affairs.

Existing "cobra-style" aluminum posts and lamps will be replaced with the same style of equipment, including high-pressure sodium bulbs. Underground conduit will be dug up and new wiring installed.

Portions of the road and any sidewalks and curbing dug up will be replaced.

Initial work will take place between Shamokin and Liberty streets.

Given the scope of the construction and the location, disruptions are expected downtown.

Project completion was initially targeted for mid-May.

The system will be owned and maintained by PPL. Shamokin pays a combined $11,200 in monthly tariffs, $134,400 annually, to cover maintenance and distribution charges for all 664 street lights in the city. The tariffs are funding the project and there is no additional cost to the city.

A different company, Constellation Electric, supplies electricity to the street lighting system. They're paid about $1,200 monthly for the service.

Shamokin's downtown street lighting has increasingly malfunctioned over the years, including during heavy rainfall, and at times has left parts or all of Independence Street in the dark.

City officials have previously said 47 lights would be replaced. MacBride said that figure is incorrect and 44 replacements were planned all along.