LORAIN — Community leaders had a unique view of the city — about 180 feet underground — on Wednesday.
A glance at the progress of the Black River Tunnel project required an elevator descent into the 180-foot shaft off Broadway and West 14th Street for Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer, Safety Service Director Robert Fowler and others who participated in the tour.
The $65 million tunnel project, which began March 2012, is designed to hold 12 million gallons of sewer water until it can be transferred to a sewer treatment plant. The city approved the project due to administrative orders of the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate overflows because previously sewer water would flood basements and flow into Lake Erie during heavy rainfall.
Daniel Markowitz, principal scientist and certified project manager for ARCADIS, the international engineering company overseeing the project, said the tunnel should eliminate sewer overflows in the city when finished.
“What you’ll get is a cleaner river, a safer river,” he said.
ARCADIS, along with Walsh/Super Excavators Joint Venture, discussed the progress of the Black River Tunnel, which is nearing completion of drilling.
Gregg Rehak, vice president of tunneling for Super Excavators, estimated that about six more months of drilling is needed until the next portion of the project can begin. After drilling through another mile of shale underneath the city, workers can begin pouring a concrete liner into the tunnel.
Plans are to have the tunnel fully operational by August 2015.
When completed, the tunnel will extend about 5,600 feet from the drop shaft near the intersection of First Street and Broadway, across from City Hall, to the pump station near the Black River Wharf boat launch. The existing collection system near Broadway and Black River Lane will be updated so that wet weather flow is diverted to the tunnel.
Rehak said drilling work is under way with a tunnel boring machine, which is operated by one person and a computer. A cutter head completes about four rotations each minute to drill into the rock below the ground’s surface.
The cutter head weighs about 230,000 pounds, so moving the machinery below ground in pieces was challenging, according to Rehak. Employees also had to drill 200 feet of the tunnel by hand.
Scot Pearson, senior resident engineer for ARCADIS, praised the work of the employees, who have been working to complete the tunnel by the goal date.
“They’ve been doing a good job. They’ve been working long hours,” he said.
Pearson said the Black River Tunnel project is referred to as Phase 1, but it is unclear whether the city will continue with other updates to its sewage system, which could take some time to complete.