Will the Charles River be swimmable by the year 2005? The Cambridge Department of Public Works (DPW) hopes so. Among the steps in pursuit of that goal is a nine-month construction project, slated to start a few weeks after MIT Commencement, that will replace storm drains under Massachusetts Avenue.
The existing storm drains along Cambridge's southern portion of Massachusetts Avenue and on several side streets adjacent to MIT are too small to carry rainwater from major storms without causing flooding or backups on public and private property.
The city's combined sewer system, more than a century old, was designed such that both sewer water and stormwater drain to the sewer system during dry or moderately rainy weather. During heavy rainfall, when the system's capacities are exceeded, combined stormwater and sewage is forced to overflow and discharge into Cambridge's rivers and streams. These conditions result in untreated sewage being released into the Charles River and cause flooding in some neighborhoods.
Construction will begin around June 15 on Memorial Drive in front of Killian Court and work northward up Massachusetts Avenue, finishing in Lafayette Square at the corner of Main Street. The biggest part of the project involves installing two large drainpipes, 72 and 54 inches in diameter. Most of the construction work will take place in the two center traffic lanes of Massachusetts Avenue.
The Cambridge DPW, in conjunction with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), has designed a comprehensive traffic management plan for the area during construction. One of the greatest challenges will be to minimize the project's impact on vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
During construction hours (Monday through Friday from 7am-3:30pm), the work zone will allow only enough space for one lane of traffic in each direction on Massachusetts Avenue. After 3:30pm, an additional lane will be opened for traffic. During construction, the MIT community is encouraged to use public transportation and to seek alternate routes.
In addition to the DPW's storm drain installation, MIT's Department of Facilities will also undertake underground utility projects on Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street over the next two years. This work aims to accommodate the new buildings on campus with new steam, condensate return and chilled-water lines as well as electric power and telecommunications duct banks. Certain municipal and private utility lines will also be relocated. The DPW is working closely with MIT to minimize the inconvenience to local businesses and residents.
Once the construction is complete on Massachusetts Avenue, the Massachusetts Highway Department will rebuild the roadway from Memorial Drive to Main Street -- work that will include a new pedestrian plaza in Lafayette Square. The resurfacing project is expected to take nine months.
SEA Consultants Inc. and Montgomery Watson Inc. are the engineering consultants for the storm drainpipe project. They will be working with the Department of Facilities in communicating project updates to the community on a regular basis. A campus construction updates link will soon be available on the Facilities' home page. In addition, Facilities will periodically send out e-mail updates.
Further information about this project and other storm drain replacements can be found at the DPW's web site.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 3, 2000.