Early Facts About Water Street's "Big Dig"

You may have heard a bit of buzz about a large infrastructure plan for downtown St. John's that would see Water Street "torn up" in various stages over three years. This is a big deal, particularly for the many shops, bars, and restaurants on the street.

There's still a lot of planning to do, but I'd like to share with you what I know and start this dialogue now.

Why are we digging up Water Street?

A shot of our current Water Street infrastructure. These are OLD!

The water and sewer infrastructure under Water Street is over 100 years old and in desperate need of replacement. As well, ever smell an occassional stink coming from the street? That's because both stormwater and sanitary sewage use the same, combined pipe. It's time to follow modern standards and separate them.

Staff are preparing a Water Street Infrastructure Replacement Project. The portion of infrastructure to be replaced along Water Street is between Prescott Street and Waldegrave Street.

The City put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for Consulting Engineering Services and a recommendation for a successful consultant will be announced any day now. This consultant will plan the project, and they're required to consult with stakeholders.

The project will be phased over three years of construction, with the first construction contract award anticipated in the spring of 2016.

The next step is to begin the detailed design process. This is our opportunity to develop a comprehensive plan that covers not just the engineering and management aspects of the project, but also ways mitigate its impacts and what Water Street will look like once the job is done.

What does this mean for the downtown?

The issue that's on most people's minds is that, given the amount of disruption caused by the construction, sections of Water Street will be closed to vehicular traffic.

It's important to reiterate that the traffic disruption will happen in segments. We'll use the various side streets and "coves" to provide alternative traffic routes, and these plans will be prepared in advance of the start of construction.

"I will keep you connected and updated throughout the course of this entire project."

The ability for businesses in the affected areas to operate will be of utmost importance. We are under no illusions about the impact construction will have on business, and consultation during the design and planning phases will be crucial.

The ability of foot traffic to access properties during the street construction will be an important design consideration. I believe there are creative ways to encourage people to visit the businesses in affected areas, and I intend to be closely involved in guiding these consultations.

Through this blog, my email newsletter, and my board position representing Council to Downtown St. John's businesses, I will keep you connected updated throughout the course of the entire project.

More points of interest

Here are several technical points from staff about the project to help you understand what will be taking place:

  • Existing water and sewer service lateral pipes in the street will be replaced with new pipes
  • The old cast iron water main will be replaced by plastic water main, in conformance with the current City standard. Where a property / building is currently relying on the copper water service pipe for electrical grounding, alternative grounding will be provided
  • Consideration will be given in the design stage for potential new property service connections, to avoid future street disruptions.
  • Affected properties will be charged for Civic Improvement Assessments for new infrastructure installed. In accordance with the City's Assessment Policy, property owners will be assessed for the new storm sewer main and any upgraded and/or new service lateral connections to properties. There will be NO assessments to property owners for the new water main and sanitary sewer main to be installed.
  • The design process will determine from which end of Water Street (Prescott Street or Waldegrave Street) the construction will commence. It is currently anticipated that the total project will be divided up into three construction phases starting in 2016 as previously mentioned.
  • The City will engage the downtown business community, and will receive input in various ways:
    • Through the regular meetings the City conducts with Downtown St. John’s
    • Survey by the design consultant of property concerns during the design process, to address the concerns as diligently as practical in the tender documents
    • A public information session will be held prior to the start of construction of each contract
    • Public notifications of construction will be issued, along with upcoming street detours
    • Property owners / operators will be notified of scheduled service interruptions, such as planned water interruptions.
    • [From Dave: I intend to see even more robust engagement take place]

What's Next?

This is obviously a complex project, and we will have to work together to make it a success. I believe we can engage the entire community to make the best of this challenge.

Some ideas include:

  • engage the arts community to paint or design any barriers that are erected, attracting attention to pedestrians
  • produce small festivals at the edges of the construction zone to draw people in to visit the affected businesses
  • have public brainstorming sessions to envision how the street could be rebuilt to make it more beautiful and pedestrian friendly

What are your ideas for how to carry out a successful "dig?" What are your fears for the impact on downtown during the project? What's your vision for the post-project streetscape?

Share your thoughts below or get in touch. I want your input!

Written by Dave Lane at 10:30

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