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Calgary’s 17th Avenue reconstruction a complex and key project

0 145 Infrastructure

by Kathleen Renne

It's one of the City of Calgary's most complicated and complex projects currently underway, the reconstruction of 17th Avenue SW between Macleod Trail and 14th Street SW. So says Logan Tolsma, a Senior Project Engineer for Transportation Infrastructure at the City of Calgary.
Calgary’s 17th Avenue reconstruction a complex and key project

Calgary's 17th Avenue SW is among the city's primary dining, entertainment and shopping districts. Volker Stevin Canada is the contractor and Stantec is the prime consultant on the $44-million project.

Tolsma, who is the project manager, says it has been on the city's horizons for "a long time," because of maintenance-life-cycle issues.

"It started as a roadway-reconstruction project, but you don't want to go in there more often than you have to because it disrupts business," Tolsma explains, noting there are more than 400 businesses along 17th Avenue SW.

The project was supposed to commence in January 2016 with a two-year timeline. The schedule was then revised to three years, in which shallow-utility work was scheduled separately from the remainder of the project. Tolsma says the decision to separate out the shallow utilities allowed for more schedule predictability, as utility companies are independent of the city.

The work on shallow utilities started last May and is now complete; the team is now preparing to start work on the deep utilities (water and sanitary lines), as well as on replacing the roads. Tolsma says some of the deep-utility infrastructure is more than 100-years-old and, once replaced, should hold for the next few decades.

As for the roads, "This is a full-depth road reconstruction. We're going all the way from dirt to pavement and concrete curb," Tolsma says, adding the road is at the end of its 30-year life. Not only will the roads be rebuilt, they will be rebuilt with a new configuration.

Currently, there are two-and-a-half lanes heading westbound along 17th Avenue SW: a parking lane, a narrow driving lane and a main through lane. Eastbound there are two lanes, making for a 17th-Avenue cross section of 4.5/5 lanes.

The City conducted an In-Service Road Safety Review and found that 17th Avenue SW is one of the highest-collision roads in Calgary, in part because of the narrow driving lane that increases the chance for sideswiping. As such, the city has decided to eliminate that extra half driving lane on westbound 17th Avenue SW as part of the reconstruction project, resulting in approximately 16 inches being returned to the public realm. To account for the added space, curbs and gutters will be moved out and sidewalks will be widened.

Besides the utilities and road work, existing street lights will be replaced with new poles and LED lighting. Moreover, the first couple of blocks of 17th Avenue SW — between Macleod Trail and 2nd Street SW — will also see sidewalk replacement and the burying of overhead utilities. Tolsma says these actions will help visually unite those first two blocks with the more well-travelled section of 17th Avenue SW that stretches from 2nd Street to 14th Street.  "It's about connectivity, connecting those two blocks with the rest of the Avenue," he says.

Tolsma estimates crews will be working in each block for roughly three months, with utilities work progressing east to west, followed by the roadwork.

Tolsma predicts the biggest challenge with the 17th Avenue SW reconstruction project is "to promote the Avenue so people will still come down and visit, even during construction."

Another challenge he identifies is the tight working space: "There's not a lot of room to work. Add to that the age of the infrastructure and the amount of history that exists underneath the road. We know we're going to encounter a lot of things, but we won't know what until we open up the roadway."

"The team has managed to find new processes and new ways of doing things with this project," says Tolsma, from dividing the project between shallow utilities and the rest of the work to the hiring of the contractor.

For example, prior to issuing tender, Tolsma says the city invited all the contractors to meet, so it could explain the project to them.

"We asked for input as to what they would like to see in the contract. The contractors came together to help shape our tender," Tolsma explains.

Moreover, Tolsma says, given the project's divided schedule, "We could get the contractor several months in advance of the construction start...We've been working with Volker Stevin since September of last year to plan the project to make it as efficient as possible."

As for an end date, the city is still determining that.

"We're now looking to a three- to four-year timeline," says Tolsma.

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