SALEM — National Grid began construction this week on its controversial project to replace aging, underground utility cables — a project that will be churning through more than a mile-and-a-half of city streets for the next year.

But it might be for the last time. Once the two new electrical transmission cables are installed, via a ductbank and manhole system, National Grid said, it should eliminate the need to dig up Salem streets for regular repairs.

Two cables will run underground between electrical substations on Salem Harbor, near the power plant, and Canal Street, replacing deteriorating systems that are about 50 years old. National Grid says that’s caused reliability issues and power outages that have become increasingly difficult and expensive to fix.

The new cables should resolve the maintenance issues and boost system capacity for tens of thousands of residents and businesses in the Salem area. The 1.63-mile route runs from Fort Avenue to Forrester Street and Salem Common, turning down Hawthorne Boulevard to Congress Street in the Point Neighborhood. At Leavitt Street it will cross over Route 1A and to Canal Street.

The plan has been controversial. To resolve the city’s concerns and mitigate effects of the project, a memorandum of agreement was reached with National Grid that contains 33 conditions valued at more than $3 million. The list includes paying for the city to hire its own engineering consultant, maintaining a project website and a phone hotline, banning construction in October, doing pre-construction surveys for nearby property owners, and paying to repave streets and sidewalks along the existing cable routes that the city had already planned to do.

2 work sites

National Grid’s contractors began the first phase of construction Wednesday on Hawthorne Boulevard, installing a large manhole just north of the intersection at Derby Street. That task is expected to last two weeks, depending on the weather.

Work also began on Congress Street at the north side of the South River Bridge. A duct bank will be installed near the bridge to house new transmission cables, which will run to the new manhole on Hawthorne Boulevard. That should take five to six weeks to complete — again, weather permitting.

Once the first manhole is in, another one will be installed the week of March 30 at Washington Square South near the O’Donnell Funeral Home. That should also take two weeks to complete.

Motorists will have to navigate around the work sites during construction, but daily traffic details will be in place. At least four Salem police officers kept a watchful eye on traffic Thursday afternoon between the two work sites.

Work hours are scheduled from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, although actual construction will end daily at 3:30 p.m. to leave an hour for cleanup. According to a project timeline, the new cables should be energized and ready to go by June 2016.

Simultaneously with this construction, a National Grid gas crew will finish installing a natural gas line on Hawthorne Boulevard between Derby Street and Washington Square South as well as along Congress Street on the north side of the bridge.

Some residents living near construction zones lobbied unsuccessfully to change the route to go under Salem Harbor to minimize disruptions. National Grid rejected that as impractical and expensive, though it did drop an earlier alternative route that would have disrupted businesses along Derby Street.

City councilors reluctantly approved the memorandum of agreement with National Grid in November. The project was also approved that month by the Mass. Energy Facilities Siting Board.

Getting info

A project website — www.salemcableproject.com — was relaunched in February, along with a blog that contains daily construction updates and traffic and road conditions. There’s a weekly newsletter via email as well as a direct-mail campaign to residents and businesses along the route. A National Grid outreach team has been knocking on doors, and social media accounts are also active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

Residents can also dial the 24-hour hotline at 844-725-3622.

You can reach John Castelluccio at 978-338-2527, jcastelluccio@salemnews.com or via Twitter at @SNjcastelluccio.

THE TIMELINE

March 2015 – June 2016: Construction at Canal Street and Salem Harbor substations for new cable termination structures and equipment

March 2015 – December 2015: Ductbank and manhole installations, Congress Street and Hawthorne Boulevard, and temporary pavement restoration

November 2015 – May 2016: Cable installation, pulling, splicing and testing

October 2015 – June 2016: Cutover and energizing of new cables

November 2015 – April 2016: Removal of old cables

March 2016 – June 2016: Final restoration of new cable route

Source: National Grid

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