The warm-up is over.
The sequel to last year's water-line replacement project - which snarled traffic in parts of downtown for more than three months - will tear up streets in the heart of downtown this May. And it is expected to last about a month-and-a-half longer than last year's project.
The city's Utilities Department is finalizing plans to replace early 1900s-era water lines on both sides of the 700 and 800 blocks of Massachusetts Street. That follows last year's project to replace lines in the 600 block of Massachusetts and parts of Seventh streets.
"I think people were generally pleased with how it went last year," said Chris Stewart, acting director of the utilities department. "But this stretch of Mass. has a lot more businesses and a lot more activity. We recognize that."
The project is expected to begin May 22 and end Oct. 6, depending on weather. Several downtown merchants were resigned Monday to the prospect of inconveniences and disrupted traffic.
"If it has to be done, it has to be done," said Thuy Nguyen, manager of Kieu's, a clothing store at 738 Mass. "We would rather get it done now than wait until we have a big explosion or break that causes lots of problems."
Most businesses said they wanted City Hall's assurance that sidewalks would be left open so pedestrians could reach their stores. Stewart said that would be the case.
Vehicle traffic, though, will be reduced to one lane for long periods. Stewart said plans called for crews to close one lane of traffic in a single block while they replaced the line on that side of the street. The opposite lane of traffic then would be closed when work shifts to the other side.
Crews would complete all the work in one block before starting work in the next block. But both blocks have water lines on both sides of the street, making this year's project last longer than last year's work.
Stewart said the city will put up signs to direct traffic through and around downtown; will hold a meeting to answer businesses' questions in early May; and will have a city inspector on site daily to deal with concerns from businesses or visitors.
"We want them to tell us what problems they're having," Stewart said. "If it is an issue we can resolve, we want to get it resolved as quick as possible."
The project - which also will include new electrical equipment for tree lighting during the holidays - is expected to cost $1.23 million. Originally that estimate had included water-line replacement on Ninth Street from Vermont to Kentucky streets. But the city has dropped that portion of the project because increases in construction costs would put the total above the $1.2 million budget.
The final phase of the water-line replacement project is expected to begin in summer 2007. That phase will include replacement of lines in the 900, 1000 and 1100 blocks of Massachusetts Street. The Ninth Street project that is being delayed this year may be added to next year's project.