LINCOLN SQUARE — The good news: oft-neglected Lawrence Avenue is about to receive a makeover, with improvements that include the long-awaited Mariano's Fresh Market and a highly-anticipated streetscape.
The bad news: Anyone who uses the thoroughfare, be it by car, bicycle, bus or on foot, better resign themselves to ongoing disruptions.
The sound of jackhammers signaled the start of two years of construction on the street Monday. Replacement of a 100-year-old water main began that morning, as crews tore up the northernmost edge of Lawrence, from Leavitt to Clark.
The project will take place in four phases: Leavitt to Damen, Damen to Ravenswood, Ravenswood to Ashland, and Ashland to Clark — nearly 4,000 feet of pipe in total.
"We wouldn't want to have to put a streetscape down, with brand new street features, and then come back a few years later and change it for a water main," said Jim Poole, community specialist and legislative liaison in the 47th Ward Office of Alderman Ameya Pawar.
Pawar emailed constituents on Friday, detailing the scope of the project, which he said involves more than $100 million of investments.
Those who couldn't avoid the street Monday said they hope crews work quickly.
"It is a lot of construction all over the city in the streets. And I think they have too much of it going on around the same time. But it would good if they could get to it and finish it before it gets too cold," said Betty Warner, 64, of Edgewater, as she waited for the #81 Lawrence bus to take her from the shuttered Red Line station at Broadway to the Levy Senior Center at 2019 W. Lawrence Ave.
As of mid-day, traffic was flowing smoothly on Lawrence between Damen and Western, though George Banna feared the afternoon rush would look far uglier. As the resident engineer overseeing the project for CTR (a joint venture of CH2M Hill/Teng/Rise), Banna was prepared to deploy flaggers as needed to speed the flow of autos and buses.
He expects to wrap up the water main replacement by mid-December, provided the construction crew doesn't encounter any unexpected surprises. Utilities are a particular concern and potential hazard.
"We know where the gas line is, but there's no record of how deep they put it in," he said.
As cumbersome as the replacement project may seem to commuters, it's intended to avoid the kind of chaos that resulted when a pipe burst in 2008 and created a massive sinkhole on Montrose. The current cast-iron pipe was laid in 1893 and is not only prone to leaks but has become clogged with calcium deposits.
"Eighty percent of the pipe is blocked," said Banna.
The new steel pipe will be placed five-and-a-half feet below ground, two-and-a-half feet deeper than the existing pipe, "so [the pipe] doesn't freeze," Banna explained.
In addition to the water main replacement, Pawar expects ground to be broken later in November on the Mariano's/L.A. Fitness retail center at the site of the old Sears parking lot. Ravenswood Terrace, a 150-unit rental development situated adjacent to the Mariano's project, is expected to begin construction in spring 2013, as is the Lawrence Avenue streetscape, which will run from Clark to Western. Metra construction will add to the potential commuting nightmare.
The long-term goal is to revitalize Lawrence Avenue and provide a thriving commercial corridor that connects Lincoln Square to Andersonville. In the short term, though, Pawar advises residents to have patience.
Pawar plans to schedule a community meeting to provide a timeline detailing the upcoming projects on Lawrence, but no date for that meeting has been set.