Volume 22, Number 50 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | April 23 - 29, 2010
Downtown Express file photo by Julie Shapiro
A project to replace the water main on Chambers St. is expected to begin sometime next month.
Part of Chambers to remain 2-way during construction
By Lesley Sussman
First there was “The Nightmare on Elm Street.”
And coming soon to the City Hall neighborhood is what many residents in the area believe is the sequel — The Nightmare on Chambers Street — although city officials, last week, tried to reassure local residents that they really had nothing to be frightened about.
A $24.5 million, three-year water main reconstruction project to replace old crumbling pipes is scheduled to get underway sometime in May from West St. to Broadway, bringing with it a nightmare of torn-up streets and sidewalks, bus and car detours, and even an occasional cutoff of water service during the late evening and early morning hours.
In addition to replacing water mains from the 1880s, the city will also upgrade utilities and sewers and add improved street finishes like pigmented sidewalks, granite curbs and new streetlights. New trees also will be planted along Chambers St. and, in a future project to follow, the new water mains will be connected to Shaft 29B of the newly-constructed water tunnel located near the Holland Tunnel entrance.
City officials from the Dept. of Design and Construction and Dept. of Transportation who attended the 6 p.m. Community Board 1 meeting held at C.B. 1’s Chambers St. office announced that they had some good news for local residents and businesspeople who at previous meetings had expressed concerns about the project.
Shane Ojar, D.D.C. deputy director, told the standing room crowd of more than 50 people that instead of disrupting the entire strip of Chambers St. from West Street to Broadway all at once by closing it to westbound traffic, the city had decided, instead, to divide the water main replacement project into two smaller work segments and keep the street two-way in the section not under construction.
Phase 1 would include the two-block area from West St. to West Broadway. Once work there was completed, Phase 2 would begin along the two-block area from West Broadway to Broadway.
“It won’t take more than a week or two to replace the water mains in each section,” Ojar said, “And you may only have one or two nights of a water shutdown. The bottom line is that we don’t want to inconvenience you. The water shutoff will be less inconvenient than you think.”
Some residents wondered aloud why the project couldn’t be divided into four phases, causing even less disruption to local businesses. Others expressed concerns that the work could damage the foundations of historic buildings along Chambers St.
Board member Marc Ameruso said he wanted “guarantees” that vibrations from drilling and cutting would not damage old buildings and landmark buildings along Chambers St., but the city officials couldn’t go that far.
“We can’t guarantee that,” Ojar said, “But we will be giving those buildings a lot of special care.”
Ojar acknowledged there might be some inconveniences to local restaurants and other businesses, but promised that the city would do all it could to minimize any inconveniences.
“If there’s a restaurant that needs water, we will work with them to keep water on during their busy hours,” he said. “We’ll work with you and you work with us. Certainly some businesses will be affected, but most residents won’t be because the water will be shut off when they’re asleep.”
Some committee members expressed concern that P.S. 234 at 292 Greenwich St. would be negatively impacted by noise from the project. Ojar reassured the committee, “We will try to get as much work done during the summer months and then work with them when school is in session.” He also promised residents who attended the meeting that there would be “no noisy operations” before 8 a.m. and after 10 p.m.
After listening to various suggestions regarding alternative traffic routes, Ojar and his associate, Thomas Foley, assistant commissioner of the D.D.C.’s Manhattan Construction Infrastructure Division, said they would carefully examine all the ideas that were offered.
“If any of them make any sense, we’ll change our plans,” Ojar said. Foley added, “It’s a construction project and no matter what we do it’s going to be painful. But we’re going to do our best to try and minimize your pain.”
After the meeting, Peter Braus, committee chairperson, said that he was fairly satisfied with the city’s revised plan to keep part of Chambers 2-way.
“I think Shane addressed a lot of our concerns,” he said, “But I don’t think anybody is completely satisfied in terms that it’s going to be a three-year project. But I think he addressed 99 percent of what we were concerned about.”
Foley said that the two major water mains to be replaced would be 20 inches wide and “it was age, not the size of the pipes” that had caused past floods in the area in the first place. He said that flooding would no longer be a problem once the new pipes were installed.
Ojar said that traffic along the Chambers would be directed one-way westbound, while eastbound traffic will be diverted to Canal and Murray Sts.
Ojar added that through the project there will always be “safe walking areas” on the sidewalks or along the curb for pedestrians, and that “there will also be flaggers to assist pedestrians” as well. He said on-site city liaisons will also be available to deal with any special needs or other problems.
City officials also said that highly visible orange cones will be placed on the streets to clearly delineate the detour routes so as not to confuse motorists headed for the Holland Tunnel, while video cameras will be mounted to monitor traffic conditions. Brochures, newsletters and emails will also be made available to update local residents on the progress of the reconstruction project, he said.
The D.D.C. official further noted that while some loading dock access in the construction area will be restricted, “We will work with these businesses on a case by case basis.” He also told the committee that there will always be pedestrian access to buildings and businesses in the construction zone. “We’re not going to shut any businesses down,” he said.
Also at the meeting, representatives of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp’s Small Firm Assistance Program urged local businesses which would be able to prove that they lost money due to the construction project to apply for corporation grants that are available up to $25,000. To qualify, businesses must have 50 or fewer employees on streets closed for construction.