BEVERLY — Peoples Gas plans a major overhaul of its system in North Beverly, replacing aging metal pipes and a low-pressure system with plastic gas lines and a medium-pressure system.
The project is already underway in parts of the Far Southwest Side but kicks into full gear in late July. The area identified for upgrades spans from 87th to 95th streets from Western Avenue to Wood Street.
"Everything we are doing is for safety, reliability and convenience," said Jennifer Block, a spokeswoman for the utility.
For homeowners, the upgrades will require the gas company to inspect homes to see where the gas enters the residence and how it is used. As part of the new system, a new regulator is required as part of the gas meter, which reduces the gas pressure going into the home.
It's highly recommended that the regulator and meter be placed outside. This allows the dangerous gas to vent into the open air rather than inside the house should any problems occur, Block said.
Exterior meters also allow the gas company to perform safety checks without homeowners having to let them inside. Peoples Gas can more easily shut off gas to the home with outside meters in the event of a fire or flood too, Block said.
The new meters can be placed at various locations around the home, depending on where the furnace and other gas-fueled appliances are found, Block said. In some cases, the gas company will even add a small bush or other landscaping to mask the unsightly device.
Even before the new gas lines reach the homeowner, the main lines need to be replaced. The old lines were made of cast iron, ductile iron or bare steel — all of which are susceptible to corrosion, Block said.
"Some of the pipes that we are replacing are about 150 years old," said Block, adding that the old pipes will be cleared of gas and will be left in the ground after they're replaced.
The new lines are made of polyethylene and are designed to carry gas at a higher pressure. The added pressure reduces the chance condensation can form and freeze, which can potentially slow or even shut down the flow of gas in the coldest months when the fuel is at peak demand, Block said.
New main pipes also give Peoples Gas more flexibility. Rather than one main pipe supplying homes and businesses on both sides of the street, the new system has supply lines buried beneath the sidewalk on both sides of the street, Block said.
In the event of an accident or shut down, the new system will be able to cut off the gas to a specific side of the street rather than the entire block. The new system will also have built-in backups to reduce outages, Block said.
While there will be some street closures as a result of the work, the new, main lines will largely be installed using a directional bore machine that will eliminate the need to replace miles of sidewalk while replacing the old pipe beneath the street.
The boring machine drills a tunnel for the new gas line. The machine comes equipped with a camera that allows the operator to largely avoid contact with electrical, sewer or water lines along the way, Block said.
Upon reaching its destination, the plastic gas line is then fed through the hole made by the boring machine.
Of course, installation will not be without some challenges. Homeowners in line for the upgrade will have to deal with workers in their front- and backyards and eventually within their home.
"Yes, it will be disruptive while we are there," she said.
Street parking will also be an issue during construction and some sidewalks and yards will be torn up, though the gas company promises to repair all damage at the conclusion of the project, Block said.
Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) asked homeowners to be patient as the upgrade ramps up over the summer. He said such large projects often take longer than anticipated, but the work is important.
"We have aging infrastructure that needs to be replaced," O'Shea said.
Work is already underway on 99th Street from Longwood Drive to Charles Street. The area was chosen ahead of others for the sake of a planned streetscape or beautification project, Block said.
She expects Peoples Gas to complete its portion of the project around the 99th Street Metra Station by May 15.
Peoples Gas is in its fourth year of a 20-year plan to make improvements throughout its system. The utility plans to upgrade 2,000 miles of gas lines throughout the Chicago area as the project moves forward.
Already some parts of Beverly, Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood have already been upgraded. But there are other parts of the 19th Ward that remain on the docket, Block said.
"There are more parts of Beverly to do in the next 16 years," she said.
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