FORT WAYNE — A deep rock tunnel being built beneath Fort Wayne to catch sewage overflows is still on schedule to open in Indiana’s second-largest city in 2023 despite what officials say has been a year of challenges that included the coronavirus pandemic.

Work on the 5-mile-long (8-kilometer) tunnel pressed ahead during 2020 despite the pandemic, weather issues, mechanical problems with the boring machine that is drilling the tunnel and improperly marked old pipes, City Utilities Deputy Director Matthew Wirtz said.

The tunnel project projected to cost $188 million is part of an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to dramatically reduce the number of raw sewage discharges into area rivers, The Journal Gazette reported.

Fort Wayne must meet the terms of that agreement, known as a consent decree, by 2025.

The city’s main tunnel contactor, Italy-based Salini Impregilo, faced spring travel restrictions due to the pandemic that impacted the project’s supply chain, Wirtz said in a presentation to the City Council. More recently, the COVID-19 outbreak impacted staffing and caused mining work to be temporarily suspended, he said.

That work has since resumed and virus testing and other precautions have been implemented, Wirtz said.

City Utilities Engineering Manager Mike Kiester said all workers must have their temperature taken to gain access to the work site.

Wirtz said the cost of materials has also increased throughout the pandemic, creating another challenge contractors have had to navigate. But he said officials are confident all the funding necessary is in place as City Utilities navigates the last five years of the consent decree.

 

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