The price of not having telephone poles

There’s a little internal clock I have for nagging the DDC — the Department of Design and Construction, which is responsible for the subterranean repairs on Worth Street — and it was buzzing again recently. But this time the communications team suggested we meet at the site, so we could have a comprehensive discussion of what’s going on there — a much more mature approach on their part than mine, which was to just whine on email.

And I have to say the visit was a healthy and necessary reminder that there are real people with a lot more skills than I have who are responsible for this work, and that what they are doing is not easy. In fact it’s hard enough that I will even have a hard time explaining, but here goes. I got to meet Walkman Wong, the borough director for DDC; Dushyant Rajput, the engineer in charge; and Erik Rundhovde, a consultant with Atane, a company that works with cities on complex construction projects.

And if you don’t want to read through all this — I think it’s fascinating but it’s not for everyone — the short answer to the obvious question is by the end of the year. Right now everything west of West Broadway and east of Broadway is done. The last section is the two-block stretch between West Broadway and Broadway.

DDC’s primary goal here was to replace the hundred-year-old 48″ local watermains and connect them to the Third Water Tunnel — the city’s $6 billion infrastructure project that began in 1970 and will continue till 2026. (We could talk about the Third Water Tunnel for days, but in short, it is the backup system for tunnels #1 and 2, which the city has relied on exclusively since 1917.) The tunnel is 700 to 800 feet below the surface, but every mile there’s a shaft that brings the water up to the street, with a chamber above the shaft. The closest one for Worth Street is at Hudson and Canal. It’s there that the watermains connect to bring water to our apartments.

This was intended to be a five-year project (they are six months behind) and it took two years before that to plan — that’s what I mean about complex. They don’t get to just dig a ditch and put the pipe in there with some welding. “If we were in suburban Phoenix this would take about a year,” said Wong. “You dig a hole and you put it down. That’s it.”

That’s what we get for not having telephone poles. And let’s just add that thank goodness we are not in suburban Phoenix.

The subway is six feet below the surface, and between the road bed and the watermain is every other utility you can name: cable, steam, gas, phone. Everything has to fit in that channel AND every time the DDC is poised to excavate and add a stretch of watermain, each of those utilities have to come move their stuff. There’s even an electrostatic line down there for ConEd — it took six months of work preceded by two years of engineering to figure out how to move it, since the fluid that the lines run through had to be frozen in liquid nitrogen. (You may recall there were two Ghostbuster-looking trucks and a house on Hudson at the time.)

“Most of the time this project has been just moving things,” said Rajput.

The utilities are also taking the opportunity to make upgrades, and the DDC is trying reorganize things along the way, since for the past 100 years as we added services, the infrastructure for them was just dumped into that channel. And the DDC is replacing the gas mains along the way as well.

The watermain pipes come in lengths of 40 feet off the truck — steel pipe that was manufactured in Washington State. So yes, there was a covid delay. And there are other infuriating bits (my words) as well: The intersections can never be blocked, so the staging there is a challenge. (“The problem everywhere is in the intersections,” Wong said.) And the city often requires that DDC repave for events, such as the Five Boro Bike Tour in 2019. And there are embargoes at the holidays where the DOT does not allow work from Thanksgiving through till Jan. 2.

It all makes me tired, though likely not as tired as the folks on Worth Street.

So when you walk by the site and it looks like no one is working on it, assume it is one of two things: the DDC is waiting on a utility to do its work, or the team is down the street since the project is eight blocks long. The department has to set the team up to keep them busy over the course of the project, even with the delays and waits, so they can’t simply complete one discrete stretch and move on — they have to keep returning to that section over time. “When it looks like no one’s working, it may be that you just don’t see them working,” said Rundhovde. “There are young guys who have spent their entire careers on this job,” added Wong.

There were signs of progress on Worth this week (see below), making me hope that the end-of-year prediction holds true.

But wait, there’s more. The DDC will start to rebuild the roadway on Greenwich (stay tuned for more on this) in January — it’s a three-year project to resurface the road and to fix the power lines that were put in hastily after 9/11. And they will start a sewer project at the end of the year on West Broadway between Leonard and Thomas.



  1. Pam, thank you, thank you, thank you. It was worth (unintentional pun) devouring every word. Now I feel bad for my daily under-my-breadth grumble “how is this ever going to get done if nobody is out here working?” Too bad it will be opening in the winter. A Worth Street block party would have been a fun way for neighbors to celebrate the project’s completion. -P

  2. When will DDC finally depart Vestry Street? Its multimillion dollar project to redo and repave a street so inconsequential and untrafficked it is in the last priority tier for snow removal in a winter storm is well overdue for completion.

    Also, I don’t know why DDC told you their project is not exempt from the holiday street work embargo, when they act at multiple locations as if they are exempt.

  3. Thank you so much for the updates, Pam! Very much appreciated.

    Any chance you know the timeline for the construction work on Broadway outside of 26 Federal Plaza?

  4. I have always seen or heard work being done on this massive project. Maybe when I haven’t, I am just so used to it being done, I don’t question it. When it is done, it will be monumental event. Fingers crossed.

  5. I love articles like this, thanks so much for the very detailed description and commentary. And thanks to the DCC for all of their hard work on this over the years.

  6. The work on Greenwich that you mentioned. Does that have anything to do with the terrible condition of the road below Canal, because of the terrible job that was done originally putting in the cobblestones?

  7. Thanks for this great update! Have they mentioned anything about the work that they are doing on Warren street (crossing Greenwich street)? They started the work a few weekends ago but then they left it uncompleted with a big pipe with noisy steam coming out.

    • I am pretty sure that is DEP sewer work, or at least it was this spring. The stack is in support of the work below. Can check…

  8. I want to add my thanks to all the others for this detailed report. I appreciate the work you’ve put in and read every word with interest.

  9. Thanks for this detail. It was much needed and we thank you and the efforts of the city to clear the air. I too grumbled every time I walked past that site, especially since, as I wrongly assumed that it was probably all due to damage from the crane accident. I must never assume that there isn’t a larger plan!