National Grid Project on Atwells Ave Speeds Ahead

By Jennifer Bray









The Providence Journal published a story on this gas main replacement work on 5/27/2020

For those that don’t know, Atwells Avenue in Providence’s Federal Hill neighborhood is known as a top culinary destination in the country. It’s a magnet for drawing locals and tourists to the bubbling fountain in DePasquale Square, where you can listen to live jazz or check out Venda Ravioli, which features 150 varieties of fresh pasta.

Federal Hill is tucked into just half a mile and teems with more than 7,000 Rhode Islanders who live in the pastel buildings, walk along the historic cobblestone streets and frequent the more than thirty restaurants.

So when a mile of 12-inch gas main was scheduled to be replaced on Atwells Avenue this year, there were going to be serious challenges that the work would significantly impact those restaurants during their peak summer dining season.

The existing leak-prone pipe, which is some of the oldest main in the state, was ready for replacement.  “During the winter of 2018 alone, we saw several issues impacting residents and businesses,” said National Grid’s Torrey LeCornec, the construction manager for the Atwells Ave project.

Installing crucial upgrades to the gas service while minimizing disruptions in Federal Hill meant that originally the work was done late at night, to soften the impact.

Ever mindful of the heavy streams of cars, valet-parkers and foot traffic, the Atwells Ave team carried on with its night work from February through March. That included digging test holes in Atwells Avenue, from the intersection of Route 95 to Knight Street, marking out underground utilities and digging lateral trenches to pinpoint the location of underground facilities.

Then in early March, the pandemic came roaring in and most of Rhode Island came to a halt.  Businesses stopped, schools were shuttered, and people hunkered themselves behind closed doors, told to work from home.  But as the streets quieted, National Grid saw an opportunity.

“We had just finished boring the test holes and realized a lot of businesses had just shut down,” said LeCornec. “We reached out to the city of Providence and we got permission to work days, and that made all the difference in moving this project ahead so quickly.”

With the benefit of daylight and virtually no vehicle traffic, the National Grid’s contractor, team from AGI was bumped up to five crews, enabling them to move swiftly. It let them quickly find out where the main was going to be installed on Atwells Ave and gas it in, while a separate crew tackled service connections.

But working at pace, doesn’t mean sacrificing safety, especially during such a heightened period.

“Maintaining the reliability of the energy infrastructure during the pandemic is paramount, especially at a time when many customers are confined at home and depend on National Grid’s services,” said National Grid’s Kendra McAuliffe, who works with key stakeholders for National Grid. “The Company understands that the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed.”

All National Grid workers, and its contractor crews,  are adhering to the pandemic protocols to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on customers and employees. That means social distancing, using personal protection equipment, masks and plenty of hand sanitizer on the job site.

Despite those extra precautions, progress is moving rapidly.

“The pandemic has made it much easier with daily production,” said LeCornec. “There are not as many cars; it is typically a congested road. It’s much safer to work here now.”

With the fast pace of work and lack of pedestrian traffic, Grid crews were even able to replace the leak-prone pipe in DePasquale Plaza, which draws hundreds of people daily to the area for outdoor dining during the warmer months. That scope of work wasn’t possible before the pandemic.

Federal Hill’s booming restaurant scene is now top of mind, as Governor Gina Raimondo said she will begin allowing limited outdoor dining with social distancing protocols in place as early as Memorial Day weekend. National Grid hopes to have the local restaurants connected to the new gas main before then.

“National Grid work is progressing well,” said the head of the Federal Hill Commerce Association, Rick Simone, in a newsletter.

“The biggest thing I was anticipating with this project was the backlash of business owners and when this pandemic hit I thought it was going to be even worse,” said LeCornec. “But everyone has been great. They are glad that National Grid is out there now and taking advantage of the current situation to get the job done.”

Phase three, which is the restoration work, is underway now. It runs from Route 95 to DePasquale Square and includes restoring the concrete base on Atwells Avenue, and patching and sealing all of the work underneath the road and is expected to be finished by mid-June. The city is designing upgrades to the current streetscape and final paving will take place as part of that process.

“We are shaving quite a bit of time off this project, which was supposed to run into the fall and will now be wrapped up much sooner,” said LeCornec.

In fact, National Grid expects the work to be completed by July. The original timetable did not have it wrapping up until at least November.

The restaurants and locals of Federal Hill still have an incredible amount of challenges coming out of the pandemic, but this is one silver lining they may remember in hindsight.