CHATHAM – The town has had no word from National Grid regarding the incorrectly buried gas lines within the West Chatham Roadway Project area, and officials say work on the road reconfiguration may not resume until the fall.
If that happens, the project may not be completed until December 2022, more than a year later than originally projected.
The current schedule posted on the project's website shows utility relocation work for the next three weeks. Other than drainage work that was done last year, there's been no significant construction done on the $4 million state- and federally-funded project, which has sat completely idle since the spring.
The big hold up is gas lines. In some areas, especially around a new roundabouts at Barn Hill Road and George Ryder Road, the depth of the gas lines would be less than the required 36 inches based on the grade of the new roadway. Initially officials considered raising the level of the completed roadway to gain the required depth, but selectmen asked that National Grid rebury the lines at the proper depth. It's not clear what accounted for the error.
“We're waiting for a response from the gas company to give us the alternative schedule with the full depth laying of the pipes,” Town Manager Jill Goldsmith told selectmen last week. The selectmen's request was sent to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the project, on Jan. 9, and the agency forwarded it to National Grid.
“We don't have a written or verbal response yet from National Grid,” Public Works Director Thomas Temple said this week. “We're all hoping and keeping our fingers crossed that we'll hear something back about the schedule so we'll have an idea” of when the roadwork will begin.
Plans for how to address the situation are expected to be firmed up in the next few weeks, according to National Grid spokesman Bob Kievra.
“We’re currently working with our stakeholders, including the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, to evaluate next steps, which includes the scheduling of a Dig Safe survey,” he said in an email.
Continued delays and the uncertainty surrounding the project have caused anxiety among business owners and residents of West Chatham. Many are concerned about the condition of the road surface between Barn Hill Road and George Ryder Road, which was patched after drainage work last year but remains uneven and unsightly.
Before the gas line problem was discovered, work on the roundabouts was scheduled to get underway this fall with a final completion date for the entire project of spring 2021. The delays this fall pushed the completion date out to December 2021, Temple said; if the gas work is not done until this fall, the project likely won't be finished until December 2022.
“There's that much of a delay,” he said.
If the gas work can be done sooner, the road project contractor may be able to squeeze some work in this spring before Memorial Day, he added.
“We just don't have a commitment from anybody yet,” he said.
Temple met two weeks ago with members of the chamber of commerce, including West Chatham business owners, who were looking for assurances that customers would be able to get to their businesses during construction. Business owners asked that the roadway be smoothed out before the busy season, and that signs be considered to announce that businesses in the corridor are open while construction is underway.