Mr. Foley on the site of the Liberty Street project
With New York’s most historic area comes historic infrastructure, which is why the city Department of Design and Construction (DDC) is actively replacing water mains that have served Lower Manhattan for as long as 150 years.
Water-main replacement is a driving component for most downtown capital street reconstruction projects. City engineers determine which streets need major utility work, then start the process of opening up a roadway and sidewalks -- “from building line to building line,” as they say -- and repairing, replacing and relocating vital structures.
As with any construction job, however, it’s never as simple as it could be. And downtown in particular, old, narrow streets made shallow by subway tunnels below give engineers near-constant opportunities to strategize the best ways to maintain utility service -- from electricity to telecommunications to running water.
Thomas Foley, P.E., is the assistant commissioner with the New York City DDC, responsible for managing Infrastructure Construction in Manhattan. If his job already sounds complicated, it goes with the territory. Mr. Foley oversees reconstruction work now active on Liberty, Fulton, Greenwich, Harrison, and several other streets. Every day he collaborates with everyone from contractors and utility companies, to property owners and community leaders.
We asked Mr. Foley three questions about the work he does to keep Lower Manhattan’s infrastructure intact.
Why does a capital street reconstruction project take so long?
Mr. Foley: Capital reconstruction projects in Lower Manhattan are extremely complex and time-consuming due to the nature and location of the work involved. The scope of our infrastructure reconstruction projects not only includes the replacement of city facilities (water mains, sewers, manholes, catch basins, Transit Authority ducts, etc.), but also private utility facilities owned by Con Edison, Verizon and Time Warner (gas, electric, steam, communications cable, etc.).
Many of the existing city facilities were installed during the Civil War era and, due to their close proximity to "live" utility facilities, must be replaced by hand excavation, adding significantly more time at a mass-excavation work site. There are also many unknowns when excavating a street in Lower Manhattan. This is both because of the long lifespan of existing facilities, and the narrow roadways we have downtown -- which cause the facilities to be "stacked" on top of one another. The underground infrastructure of Lower Manhattan is certainly more congested than the traffic on top!
How does the DDC decide which streets to reconstruct next?
There are several factors in that decision-making process, but for the most part, the NYC Department of Transportation dictates the schedule for capital street reconstruction in Lower Manhattan. One of the key factors in determining when a project is to be scheduled is to coordinate the project’s scope and location with the current active public and private projects in the area. The DOT and DDC also inspect the integrity of the existing roadway and age of the underground infrastructure scheduled to be replaced.
What are the first factors the DDC considers when rebuilding a street’s infrastructure?
One of the first factors we consider is the impact of the reconstruction project to the adjacent residential and business community in Lower Manhattan. Then, prior to construction, we review the scope and contract plans with the General Contractor, who was awarded the project based upon the lowest responsible bid. We then review and modify the contractor's work schedule with the DOT and the various private utility companies. This ensures work is scheduled per specified stipulated hours and that all parties are aware of the construction impacts.
Once the scope and schedule are known, the city meets with the community and elected officials to discuss the project and schedule. The DDC understands that the reconstruction projects in Lower Manhattan will cause disruptions and inconveniences, but by having an open dialogue with the community, we can alleviate some of these concerns as we perform our critical and complex reconstruction work.
There are always challenges to excavating, rebuilding, and repaving New York City streets, but in the end it is vital work that will benefit our own and future generations.