November 2019 Vol. 74 No. 11


EPA Funds Completion of Rhode Island Tunnel Project

Rhode Island officials finally have an end in sight for a $1.5 billion system of tunnels to prevent tainted stormwater from entering Narragansett Bay, following federal funding approval to help complete the project. 

The microtunneller used to excavate the Seekonk River Interceptor on Phase II (nicknamed the “Seekonk River Monster”). Photo: Peter Goldberg for the Narragansett Bay Commission.

The decades-long Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) project is the largest public works project in Rhode Island history, according to the Providence Journal, which reported the first two phases have been credited with major improvements in the water quality of Narragansett Bay. Those phases were completed in 2014, and the Narragansett Bay Commission has since completed a plan for the third, final stage. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved a low-interest Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan of $269 million – about half the amount needed to complete the project.  

During heavy rain storms, combined sewer flows can exceed the capacity of the current system and overflow into local rivers and the Narragansett Bay. These overflows can carry pollutants- such as sewage solids, metals, oil, grease and bacteria- that can affect human health and the environment. 

The EPA's WIFIA loan will help fund the "CSO Phase IIIA Facilities" project, which involves construction of a 2.2-mile-long, 30-feet-wide deep rock tunnel along the east side the Seekonk River to store and treat stormwater before it reaches the bay.  The project also includes construction of two work shafts, four drop shafts, a tunnel pump station and several improvements to the wastewater collection system. 

The final CSO phase will cost $548 million. EPA's WIFIA loan will finance nearly half of that figureup to $269 million. The Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC) set an Oct. 15 deadline for contractors to submit RFQs for Phase III construction.  An RFP will be issued to a short list in January 2020. The contract will be awarded in the fall, with a Notice to Proceed targeted for December 2020. 

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