Jefferson Park Sewer Project: residents worried about traffic and tunnel blasting

Dave Stacey (at mic), a contractor with Jay Dee Contractors, Inc, explaining to residents how the blasting will be done. Photo by Alex V. Hernandez

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]ity officials met with about 40 Jefferson Park residents on Aug. 11 to go over Jefferson Park sewer project’s details. During the meeting at the Copernicus Center Annex, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., residents complained about neighborhood streets and basements being flooded during storms like last year’s torrential rains.

“We want to make sure that water gets to the Deep Tunnel system sooner than it is now,” said Ald. John Arena, 45th. “But short term pain is the cost of long-term benefit.”
The $19.3 million project calls for the installation of a 60-inch diameter reinforced concrete sewer pipe under Lavergne Avenue, between Lawrence Avenue and Montrose Avenue, that will be dug under the Kennedy Expressway. Three drop shafts will also be dug during construction—the first at Lavergne Avenue south of Lawrence Avenue, the second at Avondale Avenue and Lavergne Avenue, and the third on Lavergne Avenue north of Montrose Avenue.

Construction is expected to began after Labor Day and continue through December 2015 and feature street closures and detours for residents and commuters.

The Lawrence Avenue and Lavergne Avenue phase of construction expected between September and November will result in eastbound traffic on Lawrence Avenue being detoured at Milwaukee Avenue south on to Milwaukee Avenue, east on to Montrose Avenue, and north on to Cicero Avenue. One lane of westbound traffic on Lawrence Avenue will be allowed and parking restrictions may be in place during this time. Meanwhile, Lavergne Avenue will be closed from September to December 2015 while crews dig the drop shaft on that street.

These closures and detours will be in effect for the entire duration of the project and crews will be working, for the most part, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Residents at the meeting said they were worried about the possibility of increased traffic in an already congested area due to the closures and detours. “People already blow through those intersections on Ainslie Street,” said Kristina Brucker, who’s lived in Jefferson Park for over a decade.

Residents asked Ald. Arena to contact the police commander at the 16th District to ask for an increased police presence during the first weeks of construction to help ensure drivers stick to the detours and don’t cut through the residential neighborhood, which can be confusing to non-residents because of the dead ends created by the Kennedy Expressway, the Edens Expressway and Milwaukee Avenue.

“There’s no amount of police pressure that can stop that,” said Ald. Arena. “It’s not that we’re not going to ask but we have to be realistic. We can’t stop that 100 percent.” Brucker agreed it couldn’t be completely stopped, but still felt that police presence would be helpful for the first few weeks, especially since new Chicago Public Schools year starts after Labor Day as well.

“This is one of the largest projects we’ve done in close to two decades,” said Greg Duntz, assistant chief engineer of sewers for Chicago’s Department of Water Management. “There’s nothing else on the books quite like this.”

The project will install about half a mile of new sewer pipes that are connected to the city’s Deep Tunnel sewer and reservoir system, which is designed to reduce the harmful effects of flushing raw sewage into Lake Michigan by diverting storm water and sewage into temporary holding reservoirs. Commissioned in the mid-1970s, and not expected to be finished before 2029, about $3 billion has been spent on the Deep Tunnel Project over the past 30 years.

The drop shaft on Lavergne Avenue, south of Lawrence Avenue, is supposed to be 250 feet deep in order to connect with the Deep Tunnel, which is about 350 feet underground. Duntz said crews will initially dig into the surface clay using equipment but once they hit bedrock, which is about 70 feet underground, they’ll have to rely on explosive to finishing digging the first shaft.

“There’s no other method that’s more efficient,” said Duntz.

The city put the project out to bid back in April as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Building a New Chicago initiative. Michigan-based Jay Dee Contractors Inc., a firm specializing in heavy underground construction, won the contract soon after. During the meeting, residents also brought up worries about safety of tunnel blasting and the possibility of it damaging private property.

“What you’ll feel will be very slow…like a roll of thunder,” said Dave Stacey, the contractor at Jay Dee who will oversee the blasting. He said the majority of the blasting would be done in the drop shaft on Lavergne Avenue, south of Lawrence Avenue. Once crews get deep enough they’ll probably switch back to machines to drill the horizontal tunnel. He said that crews would also notify residents if they were within 500 feet of the blasting area. Before blasting, an alert siren will sound and Stacey said residents could expect one blast a day from December to April 2015.

Moreover, a videographer will be going door to door in the neighborhood to record the condition of homes before the blasting so that homeowners can get restitution from any damage done because of the blasting.

Residents with questions and concerns regarding the project can contact Ald. Arena via his ward office at 773-286-4545 and via Twitter at
@45thWardChicago and @JohnArena445.

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