Anxiety sets in over downtown Durham water main project | News

Anxiety sets in over downtown Durham water main project

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A network of 80-to-100-year-old cast-iron pipes, which are more brittle and prone to breaking than ductile iron pipes, run below downtown Durham streets - LISA SORG
  • Lisa Sorg
  • A network of 80-to-100-year-old cast-iron pipes, which are more brittle and prone to breaking than ductile iron pipes, run below downtown Durham streets

Considering the traffic and parking migraine that is about to upend downtown Durham, few people attended a public meeting last night where engineers and the city outlined the parameters of the water main replacement project. But most of the people who did show up were anxious about the impacts on their homes and businesses.

Contractors will replace 2.3 miles of water mains beneath at least eight streets on and intersecting with the northern portion of the Downtown Loop. Many of the affected thoroughfares are major downtown arteries, such as Roxboro and Mangum streets. Engineering firm Kimley-Horn and the city will select a contractor to perform the work. The project, estimated at $6 million–$8 million is scheduled to start in April or May. It is supposed to last 18 months.

Restrictions have already been established to minimize—if that's possible—the disruption. No more than two adjacent intersections, and four, total, can be worked on at the same time. Several lanes on major streets will be closed during construction, but traffic will still be allowed. Parking, however, will be eliminated on the streets that are under construction until the work is finished. A timetable for each street has yet to be determined, according to Kimley-Horn, and public input will help determine it. 

A network of 80-to-100-year-old cast-iron pipes, which are more brittle and prone to breaking than ductile iron pipes, run below downtown Durham streets. It's not only the age of the pipes that is an issue, but considering the rapid development downtown—new apartments near West Village at Great Jones Street and West Main streets, the Museum Hotel at Corcoran and Main streets—the pipes cannot handle the demand for water and fire protection, says Jerry Morrone, engineering supervisor for the city's water department.

Businesses such as Scratch Bakery, which has already endured a noisy autumn as workers renovated the nearby Chapel Hill Street parking deck, will again be affected when Orange Street is closed. (The deck is slated to open next month.) The building's owners expressed their concerns to city officials at last night's meeting, but declined to comment publicly. Orange Street, which, under normal circumstances, is one of Durham's most pleasant pedestrian walkways, also includes residences and a law firm.

Rodney Derrick, who lives near Mangum and Main streets, is concerned about potential project delays that will further disrupt downtown businesses and residents. - LISA SORG
  • Lisa Sorg
  • Rodney Derrick, who lives near Mangum and Main streets, is concerned about potential project delays that will further disrupt downtown businesses and residents.


The aura of disruption is already concerning Rodney Derrick, who lives on the third floor of the Baldwin Building, above Revolution restaurant at Mangum and Main streets. He points to other city projects that have experienced delays, such as the American Tobacco Trail footbridge. It did not open on time because of construction and surveying errors. The West Main Street project also took longer than planned, due to rain.

"I'm concerned for Revolution," Derrick said. "The sad reality is that it has to be done." 

A second meeting is slated for Thursday, Dec. 14, from 6–7 p.m. at Blue Coffee Cafe, 202 N. Corcoran St.




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