The city will soon start work on the first of 82 different sanitary sewer upgrade projects that will cost $600 million over the next 12 years.
The largest infrastructure project in the city's history will be messy, long and will create traffic headaches, city officials warned at a press conference on Friday.
"There's going to be dirt. There's going to be dust. There's going to be mud. There's going to be complaints," said Vernon Azevedo, the project manager for the $600 million upgrade. "There's also going to be traffic impact."
At a news conference Friday to outline the sewer system upgrades, Mayor Jim Gray said that the projects were not only necessary to comply with a 2008 Environmental Protection Agency consent decree but also key to improving qualify of life in Lexington. As Lexington grows, its sewer system and stormwater systems need to keep up. For too long, the city ignored its sewer system problems. When there were heavy rains, the system became overloaded, sending sewage into people's yards and into the streets.
Over the years, overflows in Lexington have caused millions of gallons of untreated or partially treated sewage to be discharged directly into Fayette County creeks.
As part of that 2008 agreement, the city agreed to make significant improvements to the system.
Problems that have already been addressed include replacing pump stations at South Elkhorn, North Elkhorn, Deep Springs, Dixie and Bluegrass Airport. Crews are building a new pump station near Man-o-War and Interstate 75, which will replace four aging pump stations. Wolf Run pump station is also being replaced.
Azevedo said Friday that several new projects will begin in coming weeks — new pump stations off of Bob-O-Link Drive and new pump stations in East Lake and Century Hills. The Bob-O-Link Drive project will affect traffic, Azevedo said.
There will be a 17-foot trench down the middle of Shaker Drive and it will also go through the golf course at Mason Headley Drive. Other projects slated for this year include projects off of Woodhill, Town Branch and Wolf Run.
The sewer system upgrades will mean contractors will have to be in people's yards.
"We're going to be digging up back yards. We're going to be digging up side yards," Azevedo said.
The city has employed an arborist and two landscape architects to ensure that the sewer work does not damage any trees or homeowners' lawns. There will be plenty of notice to property owners before construction begins, he said. There have already been public meetings regarding the Bob-O-Link, East Lake and Century Hills projects.
The project is massive not only in scale but in its price tag. Gray said Friday that city officials have been careful with estimates. They are hoping that the $600 million cost estimate for all the projects will be high. Part of Azevedo's job is to monitor and control costs, Gray said.
Charlie Martin, the director of the Division of Water Quality, said the city raised storm water fees in 2009 and 2010. Currently, the city is able to pay for the roughly $50 million annual costs for the project through those fee increases, Martin said.
Although the city is trying to keep costs close to estimates, it's likely that another rate increase will be needed sometime, Martin said.
Martin said that the reason that Lexington and so many other cities have delayed sewer system upgrades is because it's difficult to do and creates disruptions.
"This will be hard," Martin said. "But we have to do it not only because of the consent decree but because this
is fundamental infrastructure to run a city — not only economically but from a health standpoint."
Gray said that Friday was part of the city's efforts to educate the public about the massive infrastructure project that will take more than a decade to complete.
"There will be some pain for a lot of gain," Gray said.