The Journal Gazette
Thursday, July 01, 2021 1:00 am

Sewer tunnel progress lauded

MamaJo finishes boring nearly 5 miles

DEVAN FILCHAK | The Journal Gazette

City officials and residents Wednesday celebrated the work of MamaJo, the tunnel boring machine that has dug through nearly 5 miles of bedrock in the last 2 1/2 years.

The tunnel connects with 14 neighborhoods and will help reduce combined sewage overflows into local rivers. It will store and transport sewage during heavy rain.

MamaJo's journey started near Glasgow and Dwenger avenues in February 2019 and ended at Foster Park. Lance Waddell, project manager with Lane Construction, said completing this phase of the 14-year project is “quite an achievement.”

“If you consider that we are essentially digging a hole that's 19 feet in diameter over 200 feet deep for 41/2 miles, think about the scope and the complexities of a project like that. That type of work can be difficult and brings a unique set of challenges, but we've been able to come together as a team and get to where we are today,” Waddell said, referring to the partnership with Italian company Salini Impregilo to construct the tunnel.

MamaJo's tunnel has been the largest part of the project's scope, Deputy Director of City Utilities Matthew Wirtz said. The project has been decades in the making, with 10 years of discussion and planning before the 14-year implementation.

The end result will be better sewer capacity and cleaner rivers that everyone will benefit from, Wirtz said. The tunnel will also protect about 45,000 residents and 15,000 properties from basement backups and street flooding.

When it rains now, combined sewage overflows into rivers an average of 72 times a year, a news release stated. The completion of the tunnel and connections will allow most of the overflow to go to the Water Pollution Control Plant for treatment, keeping nearly 1 billion gallons of sewage out of the rivers.

The Deep Rock Tunnel is the biggest construction and public investment project in the city's history, totaling $188 million, the news release said. Its life expectancy is more than 100 years.

“When I first became mayor, the federal government said you've done little by little,” Mayor Tom Henry said. “Now is time to take a quantum leap into the future and really protect our rivers.”

T-shirts and rocks that MamaJo bored through were given to attendees during Wednesday's event.

MamaJo's name comes from the first two letters of each of Fort Wayne's rivers – “Ma” from the St. Marys River, “Ma” from the Maumee River, and “Jo” from the St. Joseph River. The tunnel will be able to handle 850 million gallons of combined sewage traveling through it each day, city officials said.

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