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Design contracts OK'd for $150 million sewer tunnel

FORT WAYNE – The largest public works project – by far – in the city’s history began the approval process Wednesday.

Board of Public Works members voted unanimously to approve design contracts worth $15.2 million for the Three Rivers Protection and Overflow Reduction Tunnel (3R-PORT) – a $150 million tunnel to collect and carry sewage under the city to the treatment plant on Dwenger Avenue.

Officials estimate the design work will take about 80,000 hours, or about three years divided among the 13 firms. Construction is expected to be bid in 2017 and work is expected to be complete in 2023 to 2025.

The tunnel, which will be up to 16 feet in diameter and between 150 feet and 200 feet down, will bore through the limestone bedrock beneath the city to carry sewage and stormwater. Building a traditional sewer large enough to handle the same volume would be more expensive and cause years of disruption through the heart of the city.

The project, which will stretch about seven miles and include five miles of deep tunnel, is part of the city’s 18-year, $240 million effort to curb the flow of raw sewage into the rivers, agreed to in a settlement with the federal government about its violations of the Clean Water Act.

During heavy rains, the city’s sewage system overflows, dumping an estimated 1 billion gallons of sewage a year into the rivers, mostly the St. Marys and Maumee.

The cost of the tunnel project, like all of the hundreds of projects in what city officials call the “long-term control plan” or “consent-decree projects,” will be borne by City Utilities ratepayers. Officials unveiled a five-year rate increase plan Monday that will hike rates a total of 49 percent.

For more on this story, see Thursday’s print edition of The Journal Gazette or visit after 3 a.m. Thursday.