A few weeks ago we took you on a trip to Van Lare Wastewater Treatment Facility to see where Rochester’s dirty water goes to get cleaned up. It was there that we learned of an extensive deep rock tunnel system that that captures major storm runoff until it can be treated. Known as the Combined Sewer Overflow Abatement Program, or CSOAP, this system saves over 1 billion gallons of sewage from overflowing into the Genesee River and Irondequoit Bay each year.
More importantly, this means there are 30 miles of giant smelly tunnels beneath our city just waiting to be explored! Come on let’s go…
Our journey deep inside the bowels of our city begins here, at this unassuming intersection at East Ridge Road in Irondequoit. The only indication that anything is even here is this sign for the Culver-Goodman Control Structure. But don’t show up uninvited. Bill Putt from Monroe County Pure Waters is letting me tag along on a tunnel inspection today. Jealous?
Here’s a better look at it from the air . At the top of the photo is Interstate 590. That V-shaped thing is the control structure. At the pointy end of the V is the Culver-Goodman deep rock tunnel opening. And at the wide end of the V is a 50 foot high dam. I’ll explain more about that in a minute. Let’s go in for a closer look.
Construction of the tunnel system took 9 years, from 1982 to 1991. Documents on the Monroe County web site explain, “Laser-guided tunnel boring machines, called moles, chewed tunnels anywhere from 10 to 16 feet in diameter—at an underground depth of between 85 and 200 feet. The $2.5 Million moles were enormous pieces of equipment. They measured about 400 feet from cutter head to the end of its trailing equipment, where the smashed rock was loaded into rail cars. Approximately thirteen workers tended each mole.”
The photo above shows the head of a mole (and its teeth) emerging from a tunnel.
About a half mile in, Bill looks down to check a device hanging from the truck’s rollbar. “What’s that?” I shout. “I’m just checking the air quality down here,” he yells back. “We shouldn’t have any problem today.”
That’s good, I think to myself.
We had a pretty good rain the night before, so there is still a little stream of water running through the tunnel. Other than that, the space almost seems livable.
But Bill tells me that during major rain events, the tunnels can actually fill all the way up. Suddenly I’m feeling a little anxious. Checking the weather forecast before venturing in here would be smart.
After about 5 or 6 minutes we’ve travelled 1.5 miles in and we come to a fork in the road. If we continue straight we’ll head down the Goodman Street branch of the tunnel. Veering left would send us toward Culver Road.
Judging by the sign, I’d say we’re about 80 feet beneath Lyceum Street . And now here’s where things get interesting.
Here are a couple of diagrams to help give you some context…
This first one shows you the 1.5 mile length of our trip (highlighted in pink). From the Culver-Goodman Control Structure we made our way southwest to drop shaft #9. The purple lines are the tunnels; the purple dots are the chambers.
But even this massive control system isn’t always enough to hold back the tide. Every so often the flow does spill over this 50′ dam. The chain link fence on the other side of the dam acts as a screen, keeping large debris from washing into the creek and bay behind it. I’m told on at least one occasion even the fence was wiped out by rushing water.
One tunnel, 45 MILLION gallons of water rushing beneath your feet. Think about that next time it rains.
Anyway, that’s pretty much it. I’ll leave you with some dull video (above) from our ride through the tunnel. To give you some idea for how wide these tunnels are, at one point in the video the truck does a 3-point turn.
Tags: Combined Sewer Overflow Abatement Program (CSOAP), I-590, infrastructure, Irondequoit, Irondequoit Bay, Lyceum Street, Monroe County Pure Waters, Rochester, Rochester NY, rochester photos, sewer, sewer tunnel, tunnel, underground, urban exploration
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