June 24, 2024

The Needham Channel

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New “Big Dig” Set for Needham Heights?

A new project will be coming to town which will provide back-up to the aging infrastructure of the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA). The effort will take years and have a long term impact on the Needham Heights.

Tunnel Routes from MWRA presentation
The Needham Select Board heard a presentation from the MWRA on November 22nd, outlining the project, called the Metropolitan Tunnel Redundancy Program. It involves boring a tunnel deep underground to transport water to the communities the MWRA currently serves through an aged pipeline. There is no back-up to the current system, which means that it has to be shut down when maintenance issues or breakages occur, leaving their customers (of which Needham is one) dry. This redundant system would be built originating in Waltham, and send out two tunnels; a northern one terminating in Belmont, and a southern one ending in Mattapan. Needham falls on the southern tunnel route.

Proposed shafts in Highland cloverleaf from MWRA presentation
In order to make this plan a reality, the town would likely have three shafts drilled along the route of the tunnel. The two main construction shafts would be located within the northern half of the cloverleaf at the Highland Avenue exits off of Route 95/128. Of those two shafts, one would be maintained, while the other is for use during the construction of the new pipeline. However, as a key site for the tunnel, an additional drainage system would have to be built to carry water that seeps into the tunnel to the Charles River. That would run through the business district in the north east quadrant.

Detail of the proposed changes to St. Mary Street from the MWRA presentation.
Additionally, there would be the need for a connection shaft across the street from the current St. Mary’s pumping station. As this is a residential area, the MWRA committed to minimize the impact by drilling only during daytime hours. The Select Board pushed for more details on the impact of the work on the residents and businesses within the work zone. The MWRA is currently studying the neighborhood with a goal of understanding the effect of traffic, noise and vibration levels at the shaft site and all along the tunnel route.

The project is currently in the Public Comment phase, which runs through December 9th. The MWRA is anticipating putting the project to bid in 2027 and hopes to complete work on the tunnel system by 2040.

Watch the full presentation to the Select Board below: