WESTERLY — The hard-to-avoid downtown underground construction project could take quite a bit longer than anticipated but may cost less than original estimates, town officials said.
Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy said traffic disruptions were expected to occur for about six weeks when work to replace failing stormwater infrastructure in front of the U.S. Post Office started in early October, and that contractors would return in the spring to apply a final layer of pavement. On Friday, Kennedy said the project could now extend into mid-February, followed by a final pavement installation in the spring.
Town Engineer Sheila McGauvran said estimating the duration of the project was difficult because it was designed by the state Department of Transportation with relatively little input or involvement from the town and because the project involves replacing a 100-year-old culvert under a road for which maintenance records are spotty. Most of the design work occurred prior to McGauvran starting her job in January.
“Six weeks was a guess. We didn’t know what we were getting into,” McGauvran said.
McGauvran attributed the poor record-keeping to the fact that at some point years ago the town entered into an agreement to take over maintenance of Broad Street, even though it is classified as a state road. It is unclear exactly when the maintenance agreement started. “A long time ago,” McGauvran said.
The initial work on the current project, performed by National Grid, involved moving a gas line that traversed the culvert work zone.
Upon initial excavation of the culvert work zone last week, McGauvran said workers discovered there are actually two culverts that run parallel to each other. One is the 100-year-old granite-topped, stone-walled culvert that sits in a dirt trench; the other is a newer, poured-in-place concrete culvert. On Wednesday, when work on the project had to be stopped because of the discovery of two electrical conduits in the concrete culvert (one of which contained live wires), McGauvran inspected the culvert by walking through it and discovered it was sound and does not need replacement, a development she said is likely to reduce the estimated $1.4 million cost of the project. A water service was also found embedded in the concrete culvert.
Once work on the new culvert is completed, temporary pavement will be installed by mid-February to give the underground trenches time to settle. Final pavement will be installed in early spring, Kennedy said.