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Water Main Projects to Tear Up Downtown Streets, Cause Traffic 'Nightmare'

By Julie Shapiro | July 19, 2010 4:33pm | Updated on July 20, 2010 6:00am

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

TRIBECA — Traffic in lower Manhattan could soon get even worse, as the city narrows two key streets for lengthy water main projects.

The three-year Chambers Street reconstruction will begin first, restricting Chambers between West Broadway and West Street to one lane of westbound traffic as soon as next month. The project will replace a water main installed shortly after the Civil War and will upgrade all the utilities from curb to curb.

Then, later in August or in September, a separate five-and-a-half year water main project will begin on Hudson Street a few blocks to the north, cutting off a major access route to the Holland Tunnel.

“Between the two projects, it’s going to be a total nightmare,” said Allan Tannenbaum, a TriBeCa resident who owns a car. “There are enough bottlenecks as it is.”

Traffic on Hudson Street leading up to the Holland Tunnel regularly backs up for blocks. The lanes that feed the tunnel will be closed for five-and-a-half years starting as soon as next month.
Traffic on Hudson Street leading up to the Holland Tunnel regularly backs up for blocks. The lanes that feed the tunnel will be closed for five-and-a-half years starting as soon as next month.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

In addition to traffic jams, Tannenbaum said the narrowed streets would make it harder for emergency vehicles to get through. He said he frequently sees ambulances and fire trucks stuck in traffic in lower Manhattan.

Small business owners are also worried about the impact of the projects on everything from deliveries to foot traffic.

“Oh my God,” said Jenny Jing, 21, manager at Chambers Beauty Spa, when told about the planned work, who said she'd never heard of the project.

Chambers Beauty Spa just opened three months ago and relies on walk-ins for much of its business, she said.

Just down the block is Chambers Street Wines, a shop that opened in June 2001 and barely survived the aftermath of 9/11.

“It’s going to be an inconvenience for everybody,” said Eben Lillie, 27, whose father co-owns the wine shop. “We just hope that it goes quickly.”

Shane Ojar, a deputy director with the city Dept. of Design and Construction, said the contractors would have incentives to finish on time. The work will sometimes go round-the-clock, because the city plans to do water shutoffs in the middle of the night, but Ojar said he would try to limit late-night noise.

Both projects will be done in phases, to spread out the impact.

For the first three years, the Hudson Street project will affect only Hudson Street between Laight and Beach streets, Hubert Street between West and Hudson streets, and, briefly, a small portion of West Street at North Moore Street.

The second phase, which will last two-and-a-half years, will affect Hudson between Beach and Worth streets, plus portions of Beach, North Moore, Franklin and Worth streets.

During the entire project, Hudson Street will be narrowed from four lanes to two as it approaches the Holland Tunnel. Drivers who want to access the tunnel will have to use Canal Street or Spring Street instead, Ojar said.

The Hudson Street work will connect TriBeCa to the Third Water Tunnel, a decades-old mega-project that will eventually allow the city’s existing water tunnels to be repaired.

The Chambers Street project will begin with the blocks between West Street and West Broadway, and then after a year and a half the work will shift east, to the blocks between West Broadway and Broadway.

The first phase will run adjacent to P.S. 234 and will tear up a large section of the school’s garden, so parents are transplanting as much as they can this summer, said Lisa Ripperger, principal of P.S. 234.

“It’s a big signature part of the community,” Ripperger said of the garden. “People always stop and admire it." 

Ripperger is less concerned about noise from the project disrupting students.

“It’s hard to know how loud it’s going to be, but we’re all pretty conditioned to construction noise,” she said.