Ninth Ave Water Main Redo Threatens Trees, Congestion

The DDC’s repairs would reduce Ninth Ave. travel lanes from four down to three. | Christian Miles

BY JACKSON CHEN | The city’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC) is planning to tear up a chunk of Ninth Avenue to replace ancient water mains, enlarge the sewer pipe, provide utility and curb/sidewalk upgrades, and install new traffic signals and street lighting poles. While necessary, the project will impact traffic flow along an eight-block stretch, and seems poised to uproot a local greenmarket along with a leafy presence adjacent to the avenue’s bike lane.

The project’s engineer, David Frank, said the water main project would see the elimination of some parking spots, reduce the number of traffic lanes from four to three, and possibly relocate bus stops as well as create a designated drop-off spot for residential garbage. In a Tues., May 30 email, a spokesperson for the DDC told this publication that the project is expected to begin next month and be completed by summer 2021.

At a Thurs., May 18 town hall meeting — held at W. 56th St.’s High School for Environmental Studies and sponsored by West Side electeds and Community Board 4 (CB4) — Frank explained that the much-needed repairs would replace the Ninth Ave. water mains between W. 51st and 59th Sts. that have been in operation since 1870.

“Water mains are supposed to last 50 to 100 years,” Frank said. “So you’re pushing 150 years on your older ones, your better ones were put in at 1908. I’d say we got our money out of those.”

The DDC’s water main project stretches from W. 51st to 59th Sts. | NYC DDC.

Much like any construction in the city, the project looks to be disruptive to neighbors and troublesome for the overall community. According to CB4 member Christine Berthet, one of the most frustrating consequences was the expected removal of trees.

“We need the trees where they are, on the bike lanes,” Berthet said to DDC representatives at the town hall meeting. “That’s one of the major things we like with the bike lanes, to have the trees.”

Berthet, who also serves as CB4’s Transportation Planning Committee co-chair, said the removal of trees here would set a precedent for the rest of the city’s future water main repairs.

Neighbors are concerned about the project’s expected removal of trees along Ninth Ave.’s bike lane. | Christian Miles

The DDC said they’re following the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s guidelines where trees cannot be planted above a water main due to the expectation of future maintenance work. But the removal of the trees was an unacceptable option for Berthet.

“Trees are tremendously important in our neighborhood,” Berthet said. “One of the major reasons is our traffic and transportation is much worse than in most of the neighborhoods because of the Lincoln Tunnel, because of Port Authority. Trees are very, very important to our streetscape, our health, and our safety.”

Instead of moving ahead with the removal of trees, the CB4 member recommended the agencies work more collaboratively to find a way to perform the water main work while not disrupting the trees.

Overall, neighbors were also concerned about the temporary removal of a traffic lane that is expected to bring more congestion. Residents brought up at the May 18 meeting that backed up cars and ambulances created an unending clamor of honking horns and sirens.

A valued neighbor is already looking to relocate due to the construction preventing its farmers markets from operating. According to GrowNYC, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the city’s environment, their Greenmarket that operates on Ninth Ave. (btwn. W. 56th and 57th Sts.) on Wednesdays and Saturdays, would have to find a new spot.

“We see about a year out where we probably have to relocate,” said Michael Hurwitz, GrowNYC’s Greenmarket director. “We’re debating whether or not we’ll relocate in the middle of this year so it gives us an opportunity to drive customers to get familiar with the new location.”

GrowNYC is considering when to move its Greenmarket, in anticipation of the DDC’s four-year project. | Christian Miles

Hurwitz explained that the construction during the project’s second phase would obstruct the Greenmarket operations. But the organization isn’t deterred as they’re in the process of seeking a new spot to set up shop. For the time being, they’re still operating the Greenmarket that opened on May 24 that usually hosts up to six producers. The director added that they’ve been in conversations with the Department of Transportation, DDC, and CB4 to make sure there’s a smooth transition and minimal impact.

“All in all, everyone’s working with us,” Hurwitz said. “Obviously construction can be disruptive, but this is going to be as little disruption as possible.”

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