At a time of budget cuts and work-force reductions, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has committed billions of dollars to an enormous new capital project that rivals, in scope and complexity, the great public works of Robert Moses, the legendary builder of parks, highways and beaches.
The Observer has learned that the Bloomberg administration has decided to build a new $2.5 billion, 16-mile-long underground aqueduct from the upstate reservoir system to the city. The Mayor made the decision, which has not been publicly announced, several weeks ago, and Christopher Ward, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, is expected to reveal key details at a City Council hearing on March 6. The new aqueduct is to be named the Kensico Aqueduct.
“We’ve committed the money for this project,” Mr. Ward told The Observer . “It’s going to happen.”
As befits its name, the new aqueduct will originate in the upstate Kensico Reservoir, travel through Westchester County at a depth of around 700 feet, and finish at an underground valve chamber in the North Bronx that is the gateway to the entire city system. It will take 10 years to build, and design and engineering contracts are expected to be awarded within the next few months.
The Kensico Aqueduct is an entirely separate initiative from the Third
The decision to build the new aqueduct comes as the city’s
“We’re witnessing the snap, crackle and pop of an aging system,” Mr. Ward said. “While there are no imminent calamities, it’s critical that we launch the Kensico Aqueduct now, so we can care for the system’s other aqueducts. It will take at least a decade to build the new one, and we can’t defer those repairs forever.”
The decision is a bold step for Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Ward. It will require a huge public expenditure amid the worst fiscal crisis in a generation. What’s more, Mr. Bloomberg is committing the money to a project that has been regarded as something less than a priority by a string of previous Mayors. The proposal for a new aqueduct was first floated in the 1950’s, and since then it has been all but forgotten, filed away by successive administrations in that most useful of bureaucratic categories, “needs further study.”
But now Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Ward have taken the unexpected step of committing billions of dollars to a project that won’t see its ribbon-cutting until well after the Mayor has left City Hall. And they’re fully aware that they may pay a short-term political price for their efforts to secure the long-term health of the
A Huge Task
To grasp the magnitude of the task at hand, consider that the construction of the city’s three current aqueducts were milestones in the hidden but spectacular history of New York’s underground infrastructure. The birth of the modern
These aqueducts have been carrying torrents of
The problem for Mr. Ward and the other men and women who maintain the city’s
Then there’s the remote possibility of terrorism. If somehow one of the aqueducts were to be ruptured-a scenario which city officials believe is virtually impossible-half the city could be left temporarily without
The new aqueduct is part of a 10-year, $16 billion capital plan designed to protect the city’s
The technique, which has never been tried in New York, is extraordinary: It entails injecting hundreds of millions of gallons of fresh
The engineering challenge of building the Kensico Aqueduct is no less daunting. On March 4, a crew of D.E.P. engineers met to map out what lies ahead. The first step is to work out an exact route. That entails doing an extensive study of the geology of the possible routes to search out-and avoid-faults, underground rivers and other geological flaws that could complicate the tunneling process.
The next step will be to fix on a designer who will work out logistics, such as hooking up the aqueduct to the Kensico Reservoir and finding points of entry for machinery. The actual tunneling will be done by a huge tunnel-boring machine known as “the Mole,” a formidable, 70-foot-long contraption with spinning blades that chip away at the rock. The Mole is connected to a conveyor belt that carries the rubble back to the entry point, where it is raised to the surface and carried away. This technique is a significant advance on earlier techniques, such as the dynamite blasting that was used on the Delaware Aqueduct and the “cut-and-cover” method used to excavate the Catskill Aqueduct.
Once the aqueduct is complete, it is lined with thick walls of concrete. When finished, the aqueduct will be about 20 feet in diameter. At present, city engineers are grappling with a key issue: trying to determine just how much