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City plans halt to expressway sewer project

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The city plans to postpone the remaining work on a problem-plagued sewer project along the Whitestone Expressway to prevent a conflict with road work on the highway, said Community Board 7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman.

The $4.2 million project to install a new sewer line was put on hold in February after tons of contaminated soil were discovered at the corner of Higgins Street and the northbound Whitestone Expressway service road.

For about three months, 50 truckloads of the soil, which contains petroleum and ash, have sat in the industrial area waiting to be shipped off.

The city was scheduled to begin moving the dirt via trucks to a dump in Bethlehem, Pa. this week at a cost of about $800,000, said John Spavins, a spokesman for the city Department of Design and Construction.

With the beginning of the state Department of Transporta­tion's project on the Whitestone Expressway this spring, the delay in the sewer work has resulted in a timing conflict between the two projects.

The conflict will probably result in the cessation of the sewer work.

"We are looking at terminating the contract early," Spavins said. "We would rebid the remaining work in a matter that would coordinate with the state DOT."

The end of the contract would be another setback in a project that has been riddled with difficulties since its inception.

The sewer project is designed to reduce flooding along the Whitestone Expressway's northbound service road, which has been a problem for decades.

At the end of 2002, the city finished work on a sewer line running along the service road from Linden Place to 25th Road and on Linden Place from the service road to 32nd Avenue.

The first project, which passed through a residential area, was a priority. With its completion, the city started work on a sewer line on the service road from Higgins Street to Farrington Street as well as Higgins Street from the service road to 32nd Avenue.

But the city found the soil dug up on Higgins Street to be contaminated with petroleum and had to stop work in February. Further analysis showed the dirt along the entire length of the project also was mixed with petroleum.

The city had hoped to move the soil to a dump in New Jersey. But the testing revealed that the soil also contained ash. The New Jersey site could not accept the mixture of ash and petroleum, and the city was forced to find an alternative.

"The fact that there was ash content made it much more difficult to find a place," Spavins said.

The city had hoped to finish the project before the DOT started a stage of heavy construction on the Whitestone Expressway.

The state recently began a 42-month project to change the elevation of the expressway, build a new bridge crossing the Flushing River and construct new exits and add u-turn lanes underneath the road.

The resumption of the sewer project would not necessarily have to wait until the end of the highway work, Spavins said The state may finish its work on the section of the expressway near the sewer project before the entire highway project comes to an end.

Since the sewer project is in an industrial area, Bitterman said there was no rush to get it done.

"It's nothing urgent," she said. "Evidently, the city didn't feel there were tremendous consequences in putting it on hold."

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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