MSD budgets $200 million for Ohio River Tunnel project

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District broke ground Wednesday on the Waterway Protection Tunnel, a $200 million project that officials said will improve the quality of Louisville’s waterways by capturing millions of gallons of sewage.

Crews started digging two different shafts that will extend more than 18 stories below ground at the entrance site near 12th and Rowan Streets. One will be the access shaft, allowing crew members to get to the tunnel. This is also how they will get the boaring head, like a massive drill, underground to dig the tunnel. The second shaft will connect to the pump station above ground.

“It will allow us to capture approximately 22 individual combined sewer overflows along the route that currently flow into the south part of Beargrass Creek and the Ohio River,” said Tony Parrott, Executive Director of MSD. “So with this project, we will be able to keep out approximately 350 million gallons of combined sewer overflow into local waterways.”

Parrott said it should take four or five months to dig these shafts about 200 feet into the earth. During this time, the boaring head will be built. It is expected to be delivered in September. Then, around October, it will be lowered underground to start digging the tunnel.

The tunnel will be 20-feet in diameter and will extend 2.5 miles east and southeast. It will be able to store up to 37 million gallons of combined rainwater and sewage, which is more than MSD’s original plan of building three above-ground combined sewer overflow (CSO) basins.

“For the same cost, more capacity, less disruption to traffic and the community...,” Parrott said. “So I think that’s the definition of innovation and efficiency.”

Community members and city leaders applauded the team work and brainstorming involved in the Waterway Protection Tunnel project. Joe Heron, the founder and CEO of Copper and Kings American Brandy, said he is thrilled there will not be a CSO basin across the street from his business.

“We should be a lot more excited about this project that what we are,” Heron said.

He said by fixing the city’s problem with an underground tunnel, that allows Louisville to continue to be a progressive, successful city above ground. As an example, Heron emphasized no one would want to build a massive stadium in Butchertown with a CSO in that community. He said everyone in the city should support the MSD project.

“We’re talking about fixing sewage, and we’re complaining. Let’s stop with this," Heron said. "Let’s stop kicking the can down the road, and let’s start thinking bigger. We’re a big idea city. But big ideas are worthless unless you do sh**. Excuse the pun."

Metro Council members Cheri Bryant Hamilton, Bill Hollander and Barbara Sexton Smith were also at Wednesday’s ground breaking ceremony to show their support.

Sexton Smith, (D) District 4, said the tunnel project emphasizes the importance of responsibly addressing complicated problems that affect the future of the city.

“It’s a great example of what happens when you have a really serious problem in a community as big as Louisville – it’s our infrastructure that is crumbling – and doing something about it,” she said.

MSD must comply with the federal consent decree by 2020. So the Waterway Protection Tunnel is expected to be completed in the next two years.

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