Minor street closings and new sewer lines aren’t generally the kind of public works projects that generate much interest — or attention.
The city of Raleigh is hoping to change that.
In a recent interview with The Record, Eileen Navarrete, P.E. a projects administrator with the city’s public utilities department, explained the push for publicity.
“The project is a big deal,” Navarrete said. “So what we’re doing is kind of two fold, we’re trying to promote the project in general and…let people understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”
“Realistically, we’re pretty invisible for most citizens: if they turn their faucets on and water comes out and they flush their toilet and it goes away, they’re good, so we’re just trying to be a little less invisible.”
A Serious Sanitary Sewer Problem
The project itself, formally known as the Crabtree Basin Wastewater System Conveyance Improvements, is the result of intense and frequent overflow problems within the Crabtree Creek basin.
“More than 70 percent of our total spill volume in the last six or eight years has been in this basin,” Navarrete explained.
During heavy rainfalls, she said, the rainfall ends up overwhelming the sanitary sewer collection system, which causes manholes, some of which are located on private property, to spill over.
“In some respects there could be more just because these two [existing 36-inch] pipes carry half of the flow we see at the wastewater plant every day,” Navarrete said.
These pipes, she said, handle the wastewater from all of North Raleigh up to Brier Creek as well as everything north of the Capitol Building downtown, an area which also includes the Glenwood South district.
“It’s a very significant amount of flow but there’s still a disproportionate amount of overflow coming from this basin because of a lack of capacity,” Navarrete said.
A Long-Term Solution
In order to address this issue, the city began planning and implementing a multiphase improvement project, estimated at a cost of $70-$80 million.
Phase I, which entailed repairs to existing infrastructure and the installation of 21,000 feet of new pipeline along Crabtree Creek from the I-440/Highway 264 interchange to just east of Capital Boulevard, is already complete.
Phase II will install 21,000 feet of 54-inch pipeline along the creek from Capital Boulevard to north of I-440 near Glenwood Avenue. Site work began last week for this phase.
A third phase will see work at the Crabtree Creek Lift station, located near the intersection of Highway 64 and I-440.
“Our planning window is 2041,” Navarrete said. “So this pipe is designed to accommodate growth and wet weather peaks from storms through 2041.
“If we have a hurricane come through, that’s an exception, but we shouldn’t be having a spill just because we have a thunderstorm or a significant rain event.”
Getting the Word Out
The first portion of the second phase of this project involved closing a section of Hodges Street between Atlantic and Wake Forest beginning May 28. It is anticipated to remain closed through October.
This will allow for the construction of a microtunnel under the CSX Railroad west of Atlantic Avenue, work which will be completed by Moffat Pipe.
In addition to the Hodges Street closure, this phase of the project will also require lane closures on Atlantic Avenue next year, making it much more disruptive than the first.
As a result, Navarrete has been working from a communication plan, complete with brochure, that was developed with the help of a consultant hired specifically for this project, although it is one she says can be adapted for other capital projects. The plan, she said, is a way of helping people relate the project to their own lives.
“We’re trying to invest here; it’s not just an inconvenience, there’s real benefits to making this investment and doing this work,” she said.
Navarrete also made an effort to go out and talk directly with businesses affected by the Hodges Street closure.
“It’s easy for something to become ‘the city is doing this’ and then the city becomes this faceless mass entity,” she said.
“Me coming in to talk to somebody, and having a conversation and showing them a map of what we’re doing is much better.”
Brian Lasher, a manager at Raleigh Center Ice, located on Hodges Street near the affected area, said they appreciated the city’s outreach, but don’t anticipate much of a problem from the closure.
“We don’t rely on a lot of walk-in traffic,” Lasher explained, noting that the surroundings were mostly industrial.
Before last week’s road closure, a digital sign was put in place warning motorists of the impending construction. Neither the sign, nor the closure itself, has yet to generate any major complaints from the public.
“The Six Forks Road detour, it’s pretty convenient as far as detours go,” Navarrete said.
Although letters will be sent out to all affected property owners for future portions of the project, Navarrete said their goal is to funnel people to the project website.
The site provides an overview of the entire project, and will offer construction status updates as it moves forward. Navarrete hopes it will serve as a tool for people to stay informed not only about the project, but about the important, if unseen, role that the city’s utilities department plays in their daily lives.
Editor’s note – a previous version of this article listed the original plans for Phase III, the installation of a pressurized sewer line alone Crabtree Creek near Anderson Point Park and the US 64/264 ramp at I-440. The article has been updated to reflect current plans.