By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — Orange cones, traffic-directing officers and excavators in the road mean work has started on the first phase of a multiyear construction project to overhaul Canal Street.
This summer, construction crews are focusing on the project’s first phase: water, sewer and drainage improvements. Work began July 30, and phase one is expected to be finished by December, said Beth Debski, the city’s Building Salem coordinator.
“This is the first step in improving this area,” Debski said. “It’s a much-needed project.”
The $16 million project will rebuild Canal Street over the course of several years. Phase two, a state-funded project to fix and level the roadway, will be done in 2014, said Debski. The third phase, a city project to correct flooding issues, will be done in the year following.
It’s often the joke that Canal Street lives up to its name, as the corridor is prone to flooding — even to the point of becoming impassable.
This summer’s drainage work will stretch from Forest Avenue to Laurel Street.
The largest portion of work will focus on the Ocean Avenue and Broadway intersections, said Debski. There’s so much underground infrastructure there that the road will need to be closed for roughly one month of work.
Starting the week of Aug. 12, the Ocean/Broadway portion of Canal Street will be closed on weekdays, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The roadway will be passable on nights and weekends, Debski said.
“That’s the only time the road will be (fully) closed,” she said.
For the remainder of the project, traffic will always be kept moving, Debski said, even if it’s restricted to alternating one-way flow.
Residents of surrounding neighborhoods will be notified by the city anytime their water or electricity will be temporarily shut off during construction. Residents of any households that cannot have utility shutoffs because of a medical or other urgent need should contact City Hall.
The city will post construction updates at www.buildingsalem.com and aims to make this a smoother project than the recent overhaul of Bridge Street, Debski said.
“As long as people know what’s happening, as long as we communicate and (residents) have a place to go (with comments and questions), this will be a much better project,” she said.
The city estimates that Canal Street’s flooding problems affect more than 30 acres and 50 buildings.
The street has been known to flood even on sunny days when seawater comes up through storm drains during a moon tide. There is one stretch of the 11/2-mile road, in front of McDonald’s restaurant, where the road is high in the center and so low on the outside lanes that cars actually tilt to one side as if they were part of an amusement ride.
In May, the city was awarded a grant from the Federal and Massachusetts Emergency Management Agencies for drainage improvements on Canal Street. The city has been working closely with MEMA while planning the Canal Street improvements.
The city has hired DeFelice Corporation as contractor for this summer’s construction; engineering company Woodard and Curran is also on site during all work hours, said Debski. A construction trailer has been installed across from Crosby’s Market.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.