Gas Line Snafu Sets Back W. Chatham Project

By: Tim Wood

A snafu with gas lines will push back completion of the West Chatham Roadway Project to spring 2021. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM – An error in the installation of natural gas lines will set the Route 28 West Chatham Roadway Project back by at least four months.

Gas lines along about 900 feet of roadway, where the two roundabouts are to be built at the intersections of Barn Hill Road and George Ryder Road, were not installed to the required depth. Rather than tear up the existing gas lines and replace them at the correct depth, officials have decided to raise the level of the new roadway that will be built at the roundabouts.

Engineers Howard/Stein-Hudson (HSH) are expected to complete redesigned plans to accommodate the alteration by the first week in December.

It's the latest setback for the controversial $4 million project, which aims to improve traffic safety by eliminating the center turning lane along 1,700 feet of roadway between Barn Hill and George Ryder roads and install roundabouts at the two intersections.

The mistake was discovered through test holes dug for drainage, said Public Works Director Tom Temple. In two areas, around the roundabouts, it was found that gas lines installed last year were 28 inches below the finished grade of the new roadway. Gas company National Grid requires a depth of 36 inches. Although National Grid was given copies of the plan for the roadway project by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the work, the gas lines were installed based on the existing roadway centerline grade, not the new grade, which will be lower for drainage purposes.

Contractor Lawrence Lynch was supposed to begin work on the two roundabouts this fall. It is now expected that the roundabout work will begin in the spring. That will push the completion of the project, previously slated for December of next year, out about four months to spring 2021.

Temple said temporary paving and lining could be done on the roundabouts in time for next summer. “If we have a decent spring, you can probably get the work done in March, April and be done in May,” he said.

Having National Grid dig up the gas lines and reinstall them at the proper depth would take six to eight months just for the engineering and another four months for construction, he said. Following natural gas line explosions in the Merrimack Valley last year, new requirements for gas line plans were implemented, he explained, including requiring stamped engineering plans for all installations.

There were indications there could be a problem with the gas lines as far back as August, Temple told selectmen Monday, but it wasn't confirmed until the test hole records were checked in September. At a project meeting last Friday it was decided that HSH would redesign the roundabouts rather than have National Grid reinstall the gas lines.

HSH must redesign the areas with the new higher road surface to ensure that the roadway will drain properly, Temple said. “That's why it's going to take them to the first week in December to finalize the plans,” he said. The engineers indicated the redesign at the roundabouts can be done without impacting any other portions of the project or causing road stormwater to runoff onto private property.

Temple said there should be no cost implications for the town, and he suggested any additional costs be assessed to National Grid.

The work this fall was initially delayed while the contractor waiting for utility companies to transfer wires to new poles. The work has begun, with Eversource hiring a subcontractor to move the wires over the next several weeks. Because of the construction delay, Comcast, Verizon and Open Cape will have the winter to relocate other wires.

Given the delay, Lynch asked that there be a one-way detour during the process of reconstructing and paving the roadway in order to expedite the project. But after West Chatham businesses suffered from road closures during the sewer installation project a number of years ago, officials promised businesses in the corridor that Route 28 would remain open to traffic during the West Chatham project, even it it meant periodic alternating traffic patterns so that vehicles would continue to flow in both directions.

Temple said a detour would last about six or seven days while reclamation of the road surface and paving is done on each side of the road. While both he and MassDOT agree a one-way detour is advisable, the final decision lies with the board of selectmen given the previous no-detour assurance.

“This is a complete change in where our policy is,” said Selectman Cory Metters. Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said the issue will be brought back to the board, although no date for that discussion has been set.

The one-way detour won't be used unless necessary, said Deputy Police Chief Michael Anderson. If it's possible and safe for the contractor and drivers, an alternating traffic pattern will be used during the work.

“We're only going to use it if we have to,” he said of the detour. “We just need the public to know that is the worst case scenario.”

The detour will route Route 28 east bound traffic down George Ryder Road to Old Queen Anne Road. Emergency vehicles, deliveries and school buses will be allowed through.

“It won't be as bad as the sewer project,” Anderson said, recalling the impact of that project on West Chatham businesses. Police have requested additional signs and detail officers should there be a need for the detour, he added.