The Journal Gazette
Thursday, November 12, 2020 1:00 am

Tunnel progress made amid challenges

Leaders navigated mechanical, virus, weather setbacks

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

Work on Fort Wayne's deep rock tunnel continues at a steady pace, despite a year of challenges, City Utilities' deputy director says.

The tunnel project is still on schedule to open in 2023 and is a major component of a 2008 agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to dramatically reduce the number of combined sewer discharges into area rivers.

Fort Wayne must meet the terms of the agreement – known as a consent decree – by 2025. To do that, the tunnel and related sewer projects are part of what City Utilities calls its Long Term Control Plan, which outlines how the utility plans to reduce and maintain river pollution.

Some recent challenges to the process included the coronavirus, weather issues, mechanical problems with the cutter that is drilling the tunnel and improperly marked old pipes, City Utilities Deputy Director Matthew Wirtz told the City Council this week. 

Spring travel restrictions impacted the project's supply chain and was challenging for Salini Impregilo, City Utilities' main tunnel contractor, which is based in Italy. More recently, the pandemic impacted staffing and caused mining work to be temporarily suspended, Wirtz said. Work has since resumed.

Virus testing and other precautions have been implemented, Wirtz said. All workers must have their temperature taken to gain access to the site, City Utilities Engineering Manager Mike Kiester said. 

Workers are also not allowed to “go floating” through the job site, Kiester said, adding he did not go into the tunnel for about four months.

The train that ferries workers to and from MamaJo, the tunnel boring machine, has also had social distancing requirements implemented, Kiester added.

“It will take them about 40 minutes to 45 minutes to do a shift change, ...” Kiester said. “They're bringing fewer in, a few at a time.”

The cost of materials has increased throughout the pandemic as well, Wirtz said, a challenge contractors have had to navigate. 

Officials are confident that all the funding necessary is in place as the utility navigates the last five years of the consent decree, Wirtz said. The utility still needs to bid a contract for a large pump station and other work yet to be done, Wirtz added, but is encouraged in the feedback received from contractors thus far. 

“If that stays in line, we feel like we're going to be good overall in our budget for the Long Term Control Plan,” he said.

Sign up for our daily headlines newsletter

Top headlines are sent daily