Work continues on NW Side gas main replacement project
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Peoples Gas will work on several gas main replacement projects on the Northwest Side through the summer as part of a long-term program to replace aging cast iron mains with plastic pipes in the city.
Under the natural gas utility’s "Accelerated Main Replacement Program," which began in 2011, the iron mains are being replaced with polyethylene pipes to upgrade gas delivery service. Crews are planning to replace nearly 2,000 miles of mains in the city, which is almost half of the company’s gas distribution system. The company serves 829,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in Chicago, according to Peoples Gas spokeswoman Jennifer Block.
Most of the work on the Northwest Side will be performed by Michels Pipeline Construction, but other projects in the city will be handled by Intren, KS Energy Services, Meade and NPL along with Peoples Gas employees.
In addition to installing new pipes and making connections, gas meters are being removed from inside buildings and installed on the outside, Block said.
The project will replace a low-pressure system that does not keep water from entering the pipes with a medium-pressure system that will help keep out the water out of the pipes, Block said.
"First we need to lay new pipe, then put in the new service, and then we need to move the meters to the outside," Block said. "It takes time, but we are trying to put in the new service as soon as possible. We don’t want to hook up everyone to the new mains until we can reach everybody and alert them about what is going on."
"There are always people who are going to be upset that the streets are being torn up, but we are worried about safety, and the safety of the staff and customers is important so that the sites are secure and serviceable," Block said. "It can be disruptive, but we have to work with other agencies in order to coordinate accordingly, and that means that sometimes we have to come back at a later date."
Block said that the work could extend through the summer, which means that crews could dig up a street and replace a main and then return later date to move the meters.
Projects that have begun recently are at Montrose and Milwaukee avenues, south of Sunnyside Avenue to LaCrosse Avenue to the east, on Lockwood Avenue from Sunnyside to Warner Avenue, as well as continued work on the extension of lines on Major Avenue from Diversey Avenue north to Wilson Avenue, west on Wilson, north on Austin to Berwyn Avenue, west on Berwyn and north on Melvina Avenue.
Work on the Northwest Side that is finishing up includes areas in Portage Park. Work was also performed in Albany Park, Rogers Park and Avondale in recent years.
"We are committed to upgrading Illinois’ natural gas infrastructure over the next 10 years, and we are sustaining around one thousand jobs through this important program," Peoples Gas president Will Evans said in a statement. "Consumers will also benefit from this investment, including improved safety, reliability and long-term operating cost savings."
Peoples Gas also is seeking an increase in the amount it charges to deliver gas service. If approved by the Illinois General Assembly, the average gas bill would increase by about $5 per month.
The harsh winter resulted in an increase in the use natural gas to heat homes of about 26 percent from last year, according to the utility company.
Last year the state legislature passed the Natural Gas Consumer, Safety and Reliability Act, which provides for infrastructure upgrades through increases on customers bills that are capped at 4 percent of annual delivery service rates.