The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago’s massive Salt Creek Interceptor rehabilitation project, which has been slowly making its way down First Avenue from 13th Street is finally having the disruptive impact on Riverside that officials had warned about earlier this year.

The impact is being felt especially on Forest Avenue and where that street intersects with First Avenue. No left turns are being permitted from westbound Forest Avenue onto First Avenue – though police say motorists are flaunting that rule whenever police aren’t present to monitor traffic there – and First Avenue is reduced to one lane in either direction between Parkview Avenue and 31st Street.

Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said new signage has helped inform motorists about changes to traffic patterns, but he said motorists should try to avoid the area “if you don’t have to be there.”

And while it might not look like much is going on, crews are hard at work underground in the 7-foot diameter intercepting sewer some 30 feet below Forest Avenue.

Both Riverside President Ben Sells and Public Works Director Edward Bailey have toured the sewer to get an idea of the undertaking.

“It was amazing seeing the old 1927 concrete pipes and it’s very obvious this is needed,” said Sells.

According to both Sells and Bailey, workers first must patch the concrete pipe (filling one hole causes water to start leaking in another location) and the pipe then has to be cleaned by hand before a 3-inch coating of a geo-polymer product is applied to the pipe.

“There’s a lot of deterioration at the bottom of the sewer, where you can see large pieces of concrete that have eroded along the Forest Avenue portion,” Bailey said.

The geo-polymer coating will be applied to the entire 7,400 feet of sewer that extends along Forest Avenue to Longcommon and then under the railroad tracks and along Riverside Road to Miller Road.

Two crews of workers on a good day can coat about 45 feet of sewer with the material, said Bailey. At that rate it will take more than five months, weather permitting, to get through the Riverside portion of the interceptor. 

Kenny Construction, which is the general contractor for the project, is trying to get a third crew involved to speed up the process, Bailey said.

In the meantime, lanes of traffic on Forest and, later on Longcommon and Riverside roads, will be restricted as the project moves east. Weitzel said he’s not sure how long the turn lane restrictions and traffic lane restrictions will last at First and Forest avenues.