Bidding on a major public works project to fix once and for all a sinkhole that has plagued an Uptown Kingston neighborhood for more than three years has fallen behind schedule. The delay means that the project could stretch into the winter months and beyond.
The sinkhole on Washington Avenue first appeared in May 2011. Experts believe that the fissure was caused by the deterioration of an early 20th century stormwater and sewer tunnel 80 feet beneath Washington Avenue. Dirt infiltrating the tunnel and a vertical shaft installed by the City of Kingston in the 1990s to drain water from the neighborhood created voids which eventually caused the collapse of the roadway on Washington Avenue near its intersection with Linderman Avenue.
Since then, the city has spent more than $3 million to shore up the tunnel, reline the shaft and perform other work to stop the sinkhole’s expansion and prevent further damage to underground infrastructure. The stretch of Washington Avenue, a major artery through Uptown, has remained closed for the duration. Back in March, the Common Council signed off on a proposal put forth by Mayor Shayne Gallo to complete the final phase of the remediation effort: stabilizing the soil beneath Washington Avenue, filling in the sinkhole and restoring the streetscape.
The $ 3.3 million project proposed by GEA Engineering and Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers calls for a multi-phase process to shift groundwater, condense the soil around the vertical shaft and create an underground “arch” of grout to relieve pressure where the tunnel runs through a layer of soft dirt sandwiched between two masses of bedrock. The proposal would also reline the Tannery Brook, which flows through the neighborhood, and restore the streetscape to its pre-sinkhole condition. Back in February, GEA representatives said that they hoped to finish pre-design work and begin bidding for subcontractors in June. The bulk of the work, including the noisy and disruptive process of driving vibrating steel piles deep below ground to condense the soil, was to have taken place this month, GEA representatives said. The entire project, they estimated, could wrap up by Thanksgiving. But that timeline appears to have been discarded for one that could stretch through the winter and into 2015. “It looks like it will be moving into the fall, and into winter,” said City Engineer Ralph Swenson. “Which will make it all that much more difficult.”
The delay stems from efforts to get 18 easements from property owners on Washington Avenue and surrounding streets where the work will take place. Kingston Corporation Counsel Andrew Zweben said Wednesday the majority of the easements were temporary to allow work crews access during the project. Three more, he said, are permanent, so as to allow the city to place elements of the project on or beneath properties. Zweben said he had only recently received work maps that would be included with the easements and that he had asked that they be redone to more clearly differentiate between the permanent and temporary requests.
“I want people to really understand what we’re doing so that there’s less anxiety,” said Zweben.
Common Council President James Noble, who recently formed an infrastructure committee to help track and coordinate the city’s efforts to deal with an aging sewer and stormwater system and other problems said that he had received no word from the Mayor’s office regarding the status of the sinkhole project. Alderman Brad Will, who represents the area around the sinkhole said that he too had received no updates. Will said that he was unaware of the delay in obtaining easements. But he expressed concern that the process could be lengthened considerably if one or more property owners decline to sign off on them.
“What impacts it could have on the project if one or more of the property owners don’t agree, I don’t know,” said Will. “It could eat up weeks of time, or more.”
Zweben, however, said that he did not anticipate any obstacles to obtaining the easements. He also described the easements as the last step before the project can go out to bid.
“We hope people realize that this is a really serious problem that needs to be fixed,” said Zweben. “And with their cooperation we can move forward.”