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Board backs design work on massive tunnel project

The largest public works project – by far – in Fort Wayne’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 completed in 2023 to 2025.

The design work is broken into three pieces, said City Utilities’ Kelly Bajic, one of the project managers. The lead firm will be Black and Veatch, with a contract worth $12.3 million and a team of 10 other firms under them. Another contract, for $1.8 million, is with the firm Arcadis, and a third, for $1 million, is with CH2M Hill.

Bajic said the selection process looked at the firms’ experience in similar projects, the people on their team and their willingness to partner with local firms. The contracts are expected to be introduced to the City Council for approval July 8.

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, officials said.

The project will stretch about nine miles and include five miles of deep tunnel, which will roughly follow the St. Marys River from the north end of Foster Park to the sewage treatment plant on Dwenger Avenue east of downtown. There will also be about two miles of traditional sewer up to 7 feet in diameter running under Foster Park and an additional two miles of relief sewer extending south to Airport Expressway.

The city is under a consent decree with the federal government to nearly eliminate the times its sewer system overflows into the three rivers. Currently, this occurs about 70 times a year, polluting the rivers with about 1 billion gallons of untreated sewage. About 40 million gallons of sewage a day flows through the city’s 1,200 miles of sewer pipes to the treatment plant, but when it rains, stormwater overwhelms the system.

The plant is being upgraded to treat 85 million gallons a day. But even then, millions of gallons of stormwater will need to be prevented from entering the system, and millions more of combined sewage will be stored in ponds for treatment later. The consent decree was signed in 2007 and took effect in 2008. The $240 million estimate is the cost in 2005 dollars; the city is expected to pay close to $400 million over the 18 years of the program.

The cost of these projects will be borne by City Utilities ratepayers. Officials unveiled a five-year rate increase plan Monday that will boost rates a total of 49 percent.