It has begun: for the next few weeks, crews will be digging small holes along Water Street between the hours of 11pm and 7am, Sundays to Thursdays.
We're into the second week of work, and there has been some impact to business in the area. So I'd like to take a minute to better explain why we're doing this and how we're trying to mitigate the impact.
First off, why is this happening? It's all related to the upcoming major project to replace century-old infratructure on Water Street - or the "Water Street Re-Jig" as I like to call it.
It's important to note that this is not the actual, full project. Unforunately, next year in late spring we will begin closing down sections of Water Street for months at a time to complete the necessary work.
Why are we digging holes?
Right now, we're doing "spot checks" of the underground infrastructure to make sure we know where everything is. There are wires, cables, pipes, walls, and a whole lot of other old stuff that isn't necessarily well documented. We're calling this "exploratory work."
We have an idea of where it all is, but we have to confirm that our records are accurate so that when we do the full job, it's as well planned as possible.
In order to do this exploratory work, traffic has to be diverted to enable the heavy equipment to operate safely. So early on we consulted with the organization that represents businesses in the area, also known as Downtown St. John's.
How are we limiting business impacts?
One of the top priorities of the majority of businesses on Water Street is that this work happen outside of normal business hours. There are a wide variety of businesses, so the City agreed to conduct their work at night.
Working through the night still affects some businesses like cab drivers, bars, and hotels, but we've limited the nights to Sunday through Thursday, which means the busy Friday and Saturday nights are not affected. And, generally a section of street should only be worked on for one week before moving to the next block.
We're also working to keep the communication on this issue constant. We produce a weekly PSA (public service announcement) with updates about project progress and street closures, and we distribute it using our e-notifications (sign up for those here), our Twitter feed, our Facebook Page, our website, and the newspaper. As well, we are in regular communication with the Downtown St. John's board, who send update messages to their membership.
As well, myself and Ward 2 Councillor and Public Work Committee chair Jonathan Galgay are regularly in the media to discuss the project. For example, my first monthly column in The Overcast this month was an overview of the project.
When can you have a say?
This ongoing work is really just the beginning of a project that we think could take up to five years to complete. It's going to be tough on businesses, as well as people who live and work downtown. So it's going to be important that the City listen to and respond to concerns and ideas.
Over the coming months, once we finally have a clear picture of what's below the pavement, we'll be connecting as best we can with business owners one-by-one (there are about 200 on Water Street, I believe).
Primarily the one-on-ones will be to determine how these old and new pipes do and will connect to the many buildings. But they'll also be an opportunity to solicit feedback on how we can avoid major disruption as the construction walls go up and the street blocks shut down.
We'll also have public meetings and workshops to help plan the project and envision what the Street can be like once they put the pavement back.
It's going to be a bumpy road, but if we work together we can get this done properly and efficiently. If you'd like to connect with me, give me a shout or leave a comment below!