Kingston to replace mains while state installs roundabout

I-587, Albany Avenue and Broadway intersection, site of a planned roundabout. (Will Dendis)

The city is poised to spend $2.3 million to replace underground infrastructure, in conjunction with the state project to install a roundabout at an Uptown Kingston intersection.

Sometime next year, the state Department of Transportation plans to begin construction on a long-planned overhaul of the intersection of I-587, Albany Avenue and Broadway. Planners have long complained that the busy intersection lacked capacity to handle rush hour traffic. Replacing the three way intersection with a roundabout, planners say, will smooth and speed the flow of traffic and create a more pedestrian-friendly environment on nearby streets. The project has been in the works since 2010 and is currently in a final design phase. Construction is expected to begin late this year or in early 2019 and continue into 2020. The state plans to pick up 95 percent of the total cost while Ulster County will pay for the rest.

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Earlier this month, the Kingston Common Council voted to approve a $1.5 million bond requested by the Kingston Water Department board to replace water mains in the area at the same time the roundabout goes in. In December, the council approved a second $800,000 bond to replace sewer infrastructure at the site. City officials say that the spending is justified based on age and condition of the infrastructure and the difficulty of replacing it once the traffic circle is in place.

“[The state Department of Transportation] is going to be digging up the area anyway,” said Alderman Bill Carey (D-Ward 5). “This way we don’t have to go back in there in a few years and dig it up again on our dime.”

But Kingston Water Department Superintendent Judith Hansen said this week that the decision to authorize the bond was a difficult one for the agency’s board of directors. Hansen noted that while the some of the pipes beneath the proposed roundabout dated back to 1885, all were in relatively good shape compared to others in town.

“Sure we want to replace those pipes,” said Hansen. “But our resources are limited and there are higher priority projects.”

In the end, Hansen said, the board was swayed by the distinct possibility that the roundabout’s construction could cause shifting of or damage to the underlying water mains and the difficulty of fixing any issues once the traffic circle is in place.

“They’re digging two feet down, our pipes are four feet down,” said Hansen. “There is no question in my mind that [the DOT project] will disrupt our water mains, not through any negligence on their part, just because that’s what happens.”

City Engineer Ralph Swenson said that similar reasoning guided his decision to recommend replacing sewer mains during the construction phase of the new traffic circle. The bond approved by the council in December would cover the $685,000 estimated cost with an additional $115,000 contingency budget.

“To put a new road over a sewer main that’s 75 to 100 years old is not a good idea as far as I’m concerned,” said Swenson.

Swenson added that, along with potential damage from the new construction, the sewer mains had a high likelihood of failure within the next 20 years. Replacing the pipes once the traffic circle was built would pose major logistical challenges, he said.

“It’s bad enough with the traffic control set up the way it is now,” said Swenson. “With the roundabout, it would be nearly impossible.”

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