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'It's going to get dicey.' Massive sewer project to disrupt downtown entry for 9 months.

A major stormwater and sewer line replacement project on Midland will result in some lane closures during the nine-month construction.
A major stormwater and sewer line replacement project on Midland will result in some lane closures during the nine-month construction.

A sanitary sewer replacement project that will begin in July will mean partial closures of Short Street, the loss of parking on parts of Main Street and intermittent lane closures on Midland Avenue between Main and Third streets, city officials said this week.

The replacement of the sanitary sewer pipe in that part of town is part of a nearly $600 million stormwater and sewer overhaul required as part of a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency.

The more than $10 million Midland and Main project will take 270 days, or about nine months to complete, said Charlie Martin, the head of the city's division of water quality.

The project was originally slated to be done in 2023. But the Town Branch Commons, a more than 2.0-mile trail that will go along Midland Avenue is set to begin construction in 2019, which meant the sanitary sewer pipes had to be replaced first.

"There's a reason why this was not done before," Martin told a group at a public meeting about the project at the Charles Young Center on Tuesday. Replacing those clay pipes with new ones is costly, dirty and will cause headaches for businesses and residents .

The project will begin at Elm Tree and Main Street. Crews will be working in the parking lane in front of the Main and Rose building. The pipe will then turn the corner at Eastern Avenue. At that corner there are more than a dozen known utilities, further complicating work at that intersection.

Martin was more blunt: "It's going to get dicey."

"We will have to dig very deep trenches in this area," Martin said. Moreover, the pipe has to go down the center of Eastern. That means sections of Eastern Avenue between Main and Short streets will be closed entirely as crews work. The pipe will then turn the corner at Short Street and continue down to Midland. Short from Eastern to Midland will also have to be closed during the time that the pipe is being replaced. Those street closures will likely be as long as 90 days, Martin said.

"There is an 84-inch box culvert there at Short and Midland, we have to dig underneath of it," Martin said. The new pipe will go under Midland at Short Street. A new pipe will be placed on the side closest to the Lexington Herald-Leader in what is now a bike lane. However, there will be connecting pipes that will go back to the other side of Midland, which will mean intermittent lane closures on the major road into Lexington.

The bid for the project is expected to be awarded soon. The city will know more about the timeline of when streets will be closed after the project has been awarded, Martin said.

"The whole idea is to keep Midland open," he said.

Not only will it cause traffic problems on the East End of town, but it will also be noisy. Currently, the city does not plan on blasting or using dynamite to dig the deep trenches. The trenches will be dug using hoe-diggers. While the replacement pipe is laid, the sewer will have to be re-routed using pumps, Martin said. (Stormwater and sewer systems are gravity based systems. That means they have to be placed deep under ground)

Some people questioned during Tuesday's meeting why the city did not dynamite or blast several times rather than use hoe-diggers, which make constant noise.

Martin said the city cannot use blasting or dynamite in areas close to buildings or near utility lines. The city is trying to avoid using that method.

"I think there may be a time, when you guys will want to drive me to the dynamite store," Martin said, referring to the nine-month time line for the project.

The intersection of Short and Midland will be redone as part of the project. The plans include eventually putting in a traffic light and cutting off the multiple turn lanes and islands that currently make that intersection confusing for drivers and impossible for pedestrians to cross.

Brandi Peacher, the project manager for the Town Branch Commons, said during Tuesday's meeting construction on the trail will not begin until 2019, after the sewer project is completed. The trail will go along the Thoroughbred Park side of Midland Avenue. Peacher said they hope not to have to do major reconstruction on the Short and Midland intersection during the construction of the trail or tear up the intersection again.

Martin said the city has to replace the sanitary sewer line in that area or it will not be in compliance with the EPA consent decree.

"What we didn't want to do is have the Town Branch Commons come through and then five years later, have to tear it up again to do the sanitary sewer project," Martin said.

Mid-February kicks off a season with which all drivers are familiar: pothole season. Lexington roads, their undersides filling with water that freezes and melts all winter, start to collapse under the combination of holes beneath and cars above. “

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