City officials, business owners and residents alike are throwing their weight behind plans to update and expand sewer lines along Route 20 (Southwest Cutoff) on Worcester's southeast side, in large part to boost economic development in the area close to the city's border with Shrewsbury.
Mayor Joseph Petty said the project, which would install about two miles of sewer mains from a pumping station on Whitla Drive off Sunderland Road to the Upper Blackstone Wastewater Treatment Facility, is estimated to cost about $15 million. There are currently no sewer lines from Massasoit Road to Sunderland Road.
The project has been championed by Petty since last fall's mayoral campaign. Last month, he convened a 17-member task force of local officials, business owners and others with a stake in the neighborhood to determine the best plan for the area.
Daniel Donahue, Petty's director of policy and deputy chief of staff, said the group is focusing on economic development, as well as the environmental and operational benefits the sewer project would bring.
The expected economic impact would boost business development in the underutilized area, city officials said.
"You don't have a lot of building directly on Route 20," said Robert Moylan Jr., the city's public works and parks commissioner. "There's a lot of vacant land. Some of the buildings that have been built down there have tied into existing lines but (those lines) might be on other streets. The interesting thing was (that a) direct line was never put in to the road. People found other ways to sewer their property."
In an email, Petty said the Route 20 corridor has been overlooked and holds unrealized economic development potential.
"I hope with sewer investment in the corridor, the city will see increased economic development opportunities along Route 20," he said. "Economic development could come from a variety of sources, and we have already seen significant investment in recent years up and down the Route 146 corridor, both inside and outside the city, and I see a possibility to harness some of this development and bring similar investments to the Route 20 corridor."
Current zoning in the Route 20 corridor makes it most conducive for commercial and industrial construction.
Mike Testa, a member of the task force and board member of the Grafton Hill Business Association, added, "Hopefully, (the project) will spark some other interests, especially with CSX coming in. We'll have a lot more interstate traffic and some commercial (businesses) coming in."
Last June, construction of a $120-million CSX rail yard expansion, which is expected to create more than 450 local jobs, began. It will more than double the size of the intermodal terminal between Shrewsbury and Franklin streets, bringing it to 51 acres. Through an agreement with the state, the project will also allow for more commuter trains between Worcester and Boston by the end of the year.
Not only are the new sewer lines expected to encourage new businesses to come to the area, but could allow those already there to expand.
"They are limited to on-site septic systems now, which both limit development and sometimes, like in my case, prevent it, because I don't have the land available to put in a full-size septic," said Henry Camosse, president of Camosse Masonry Supply and a task force member. He said he has wanted to grow his business for the past decade, but is unable to do so because he would have to follow updated building codes and doesn't have the space for the full septic system that would be needed.
"I can cope. But … our business has changed its focus from a contractor kind of company to a retail company, so in order for me to have the correct retail kind of facility," he needs to redevelop his parcel to expand offerings, he said.
Moylan, of the public works department, said the project would create operational efficiency because there is no direct sewer line along Route 20. Sewage flows through what he called "a pretty circuitous route" from Whitla Drive to Belmont then Shrewsbury and Harding streets, making its way into the city's downtown sewer lines before flowing to the Upper Blackstone facility.
The direct lines will allow for the discontinuation of one or two pumping stations, while expanding the site on Whitla Drive. A sewer line under Broad Meadow Brook, which Moylan said could fail, also would close.
Deb Cary, director of central sanctuaries for Mass Audubon, which Broad Meadow Brook is a part of, said the line does get blocked and there have been instances in which the sewage running through the pipeline has leaked out into a nearby wetland, although she said the city was quick to clean it up.
"All the more reason why this is really important to address. The time has come," she said.
Petty said the task force will discuss options through the summer. He hopes it will have a final proposal in the fall.
Officials say it's too early to know what funding options are most viable, but federal and state grants are being looked at, as are private sources, which could allow the project to start sooner and cost less.
"It's an interesting concept and it's an attractive concept, but we need to fully understand exactly what it requires," Moylan said. n