Pawtucket Tunnel project begins

Pawtucket Tunnel project begins

Officials break ground on the new Pawtucket Tunnel project last Friday.

PAWTUCKET – The Narragansett Bay Commission last Friday broke ground on its Pawtucket Tunnel project, a milestone that’s seen plenty of advance legwork leading up to it.

The tunnel is the centerpiece of Phase III of the NBC’s Combined Sewer Overflow Abatement Program. The project, known as RestoredWaters RI, consists of a 2.2-mile long, 125-foot deep tunnel, which will store and transport storm-related sewage to the NBC’s Bucklin Point Wastewater Treatment Facility for full treatment.

The NBC constructed a similar tunnel for Phase I of the CSO project. Since going online in 2008, the Phase I tunnel has captured 12.5 billion gallons of water and transported that water to the Field’s Point Wastewater Treatment Facility. Without this project, storm-related sewage overflows would go into waters untreated, say officials.

RestoredWaters RI is the largest public works project in Rhode Island history; tunnel construction is estimated at $836 million. The project will create 1,700 direct or indirect jobs, improve shellfishing and swimming beaches, and create green spaces for public access, said those in attendance last week.

The Valley Breeze reported last November that the NBC had purchased 10 properties on or near the Pawtucket riverfront to help facilitate construction of the massive new stormwater tunnel. The former Masonic Temple at 50 Pleasant St. was one of 10 properties, including several homes, purchased for a combined $6.85 million. That total represented only a fraction of the $548 million estimated cost for the tunnel work.

Combined sewer overflow system phase 3 upgrades by NBC will help store and treat up to 58.5 million gallons of stormwater and sewage from Central Falls and Pawtucket before it makes it to the river.

The 2.2-mile collection tunnel, measuring 30 feet wide, will run from Pawtucket to the Bucklin Point wastewater treatment facility in East Providence. The tunnel will be dug at a depth of 150-200 feet along the eastern shore of the river.

This project is the first of four segments planned for phase 3. Additional connections and segments will be completed through 2041.

“We know Rhode Islanders value a clean and healthy bay,” said NBC Chairman Vincent Mesolella. “We’re very proud of infrastructure investments Narragansett Bay Commission ratepayers have made over the past two decades to mitigate the century-old issue of CSOs and we are confident that this final phase of the CSO project will result in a bay that will continue to be a beloved resource for our children and grandchildren. We call this project RestoredWaters RI because it will, quite literally, give these waters back to our community.”

Due to the success of Phases I and II of the NBC’s CSO program, 3,711 acres of shellfishing grounds have been reclassified from “conditional” to “open” and portions of the Providence River that have been closed to shellfishing for 75 years have now reopened. Continued expansion of shellfishing grounds and recreational areas are anticipated as the project continues.

“The biggest environmental success story in our state is the progress we are making cleaning up Narragansett Bay and our rivers,” said DEM Director Janet Coit. “This is happening because of implementation of strong laws by DEM and major investments and actions by the NBC and others. I can’t say enough about the hard work of DEM and the NBC. This project will continue that progress, resulting in cleaner rivers and continuing to improve water quality in the upper Bay.”

“Water quality in Narragansett Bay has come a long way in recent decades, and RestoredWaters RI will build on that progress,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. “This project is an investment in making sure the next generation of Rhode Islanders can grow up in a safe environment with clean beaches, a thriving ocean, and healthy fisheries.”