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The Journal Gazette

Downtown traffic about to get worse

Massive project to tear up several primary arteries

– If you’re looking toward the end of summer for relief from what seems like an endless parade of orange barrels, “Road Closed” signs and construction delays, you’re in for a nasty surprise.

Much of downtown – from Harrison Street on the east to Broadway on the west and from Wayne Street on the south to the St. Marys River on the north – will be a construction zone as the city installs new storm sewers.

The project will be so big and so disruptive that a portion of Ewing Street will temporarily become a two-way street.

“That’s the unfortunate nature of a sewer separation project,” said Kelly Bajic, the city’s project manager for the work. “But we believe in the greater good and the quality of our rivers.”

The project builds upon an earlier one that built a massive new storm sewer trunk line down Ewing Street, from Brackenridge Street to the river. This project – called the Ewing Street East-West Storm Sewer – will build branches on that trunk, carrying storm sewage down Berry, Main and Pearl streets to the trunk line under Ewing, which will take it to the river.

The sewers downtown are combined sewers, meaning they carry both sanitary sewage and stormwater from street drains. During heavy rains, stormwater overwhelms the system, washing millions of gallons of sanitary sewage into the rivers. There are four outfalls in this project area alone, in a stretch of river the city would like to see developed.

This project, Bajic said, will install new dedicated storm sewer lines, so street drains that currently go into the combined system will instead go to the storm-only system where it can be safely carried to the river without pollution. When complete, it will take the rainwater from about 30 acres of hard surface, reducing the amount of sewage overflow into the rivers by almost 7 million gallons a year, she said. That also created more capacity in the current system, allowing for more development.

Of course, all that work means construction crews will be ripping up streets and installing more than a mile of up to 30-inch pipe all over downtown.

“While it’s happening, it’s going to be a lot of fun,” city traffic engineer Shan Gunawardena said. “But it will be nice when it’s done.”

The biggest disruption will come when Fairfield Avenue is closed between Wayne and Superior streets. That will require making Ewing Street a temporary two-way street, just as Fairfield was in 2011 when Ewing was closed to install the trunk line.

Because of the disruption, the contract requires Fairfield to reopen by Nov. 15. Construction is expected to begin in September; the Board of Public Works opened bids for the work Wednesday. The apparent low bidder was All Star Construction, at $2.1 million.

Crews have already installed traffic signals to accommodate the two-way traffic on Ewing. Officials said the signals are permanent and will remain in place for when Ewing and Fairfield both permanently become two-way streets, expected in the fall of 2014.

Gunawardena said it would be nice to avoid the confusion of changing Ewing to two-way for three months, then back to one-way for eight or nine months, then to two-way again, but it is unavoidable because of the five-way intersection at Ewing, Fairfield, Superior and Wells streets.

The city is going to build a roundabout there, but construction won’t begin until spring and won’t finish until fall 2014.

Traffic will also get dicey when crews install pipe on Main Street between Harrison and Webster and between Fairfield and Broadway.

Bajic said work is like a slow-moving train, with crews digging a ditch, installing the pipe and backfilling as they go, but it will take time and require drivers to find alternative routes.

“We wish we could do it trenchless, but when you’re installing new storm sewer, there’s no way,” Bajic said.

Officials said they’re also trying to coordinate the project with other work in the area – they’re replacing some aging water mains on Pearl Street while they have the street open – and with utilities such as AEP, which has large electric vaults in the area, and Verizon.

They also will have to deal with unseen problems, such as buried trolley tracks, which require special saws to cut the steel beams and concrete foundations.

Bajic said this part of the project – Phase 1 – should be substantially complete in April and finished by July 1.

Phase 2, which will install lines on Washington, Jefferson and Fairfield, will be bid in October and begin construction in February.

It won’t be complete until fall 2014, which means this year’s work will be just a preview of the traffic nightmare to come when crews tear up Washington and Jefferson boulevards.