Five Years of Construction Headaches Begin for Hell's Kitchen Residents

By Mathew Katz on May 30, 2012 7:01am 

The Department of Design and Construction's map of the areas affected by the project.
The Department of Design and Construction's map of the areas affected by the project.
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Department of Design and Construction

HELL'S KITCHEN — Years of traffic snarls, water shutoffs, noisy construction and other headaches are about to become a reality in Hell's Kitchen.

City workers have begun a five-and-a-half year process of tearing up streets in Hell’s Kitchen and Midtown to replace aging water mains and connect a massive water tunnel to the city’s main systems, officials said.

The Department of Design and Construction plans to install 48, 36 and 30 inch underground water mains over the course of the project. As a result,  large trenches will fill neighborhood streets for years to come.

Set to run until Spring 2017, construction will be done in phases that will last roughly six to 18 months. 

Work has already begun on the first phase of the project, according to the DDC. Throughout the summer most of the work will center around West 48th Street, where crews will replace sewers between Eighth Avenue and Broadway, and Ninth and 10th Avenues.

Later in the summer, workers will begin to dig up parts of West 51st Street between Ninth Avenue and Broadway, the DDC said.

The third and fourth phases have yet to be definitively scheduled, but will bring their own set of lane closures over the next few years.

The third phase will center on 10th Avenue between West 47th and West 48th streets, as well as Ninth Avenue between West 48th and 51st streets.

Finally, crews will tackle West 49th Street between Ninth and 10th avenues.

According to the DDC, work will likely run from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. during weekdays, but could extend later or into the weekends if construction gets behind schedule.

Adding to the water-main work will be the redesign of the Times Square, occurring at the same time, which will shut down lanes on Seventh Avenue and Broadway over the next few years.

The new main would connect the existing water grid to the city's massive new water tunnel, which will eventually carry water from upstate New York. The Third Water Tunnel is designed to be an alternative to two existing tunnels that are crumbling and are badly in need of inspection, officials said.

“This is not just little water pipes being put in the ground,” said Norberto Acevedo, Jr., the DDC’s community liaison, at a meeting last week.

“This is major work, this is necessary work, and this is for the water supply of the city as a whole.”

In the next two to four weeks, the agency will carve out test pits on West 48th Street between 10th and Ninth Avenues. Private utility companies such as Con Edison have worked on the sites for months in order to relocate their infrastructure.

More intensive work involving large-scale excavations will being in phases afterwards, with the work on West 48th Street beginning first.

“This is not a five-year project in front of your home,” said Community Board 4 District Manager Bob Benfatto at the meeting last week, held to update the community on the project’s progress. 

“It’s seven to nine months in front of your home.”

Residents at the meeting expressed their concern about five years of annoyances, including delays in garbage and temporary restrictions in parking, not to mention huge traffic delays.

And then there’s the rats.

"You may be used to your neighborhood now not seeing very much,” Acevedo said. “But they’re there — there may be a time where you may see more [rodent] activity as we dig up their dens.”

DDC officials said they will assist in storing garbage that isn’t picked up because of shut down loading areas, but admitted that it could be a challenge.

“We know what we’re up against,” Acevedo, Jr. said at the meeting last week. “This is a lot when we’re not even here.”

According to the DDC, the project will shut down two lanes of traffic during work hours on Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth avenues. Each street will only have one lane of traffic open during work hours.                                                 

The DDC said it would do its best to keep traffic moving as quickly as possible during the years of construction.

“We do this a lot,” Acevedo said. "We do know what we’re doing.”

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