Princess Street is about to change and not just the surface.
While the reconstruction of the bottom two blocks of Princess Street gets a lot of attention for its intrusion into our lives, what gets lost in the talk is how a little bit of Kingston history is going to give way to modernity.
The reconstruction, which begins March 1, will cost about $4 million and replace the oldest infrastructure in the city.
Underneath Lower Princess Street are stone box sewers that are more than 150 years old. Workers built them out of the bedrock and laid each stone by hand, including the stone archways that make up the roof. The stone box sewers run for about one kilometre under Princess Street, from about Division Street down to the waterfront.
“You can’t maintain these things, but they’re operational,” said Mark Campbell, the city engineer who is overseeing the Princess Street project.
Many of the sewers in the old city were originally built and installed in the 1800s and early part of the 20th century. Workers built each sewer as a combined sewer, meaning that they handled stormwater and sewage. That really didn’t matter though — sewers ran directly into the harbour and waterfront, meaning there was no sewage treatment.
They were eventually attached to the city’s sewage treatment system, but never replaced.
The city and Utilities Kingston have spent millions over the past several years replacing old combined sewers with separated pipes.
When a storm sends a sudden rush of water into the system, combined sewers flow stormwater into the sewage treatment and overwhelm the system’s capacity. To avoid backups into homes and business, untreated wastewater is released into the Cataraqui River. Separating sewers allows for stormwater to flow out to the river while sewage can still be treated without the threat of backups.
The work on Princess Street will take about four months to complete. Work will cover a two-and-a-half block stretch from the Holiday Inn up to King Street, and King Street from Brock Street to just north of Princess Street. The city maintains that the area will be open to pedestrians and businesses will remain open during construction.
Crews will start work almost in front of Pan Chancho and move west. At the same time, work will begin on King Street by Brock Street and move north until the crews meet at the intersection of King and Princess streets. Once work is completed in that area, the focus will shift to the southern portion of the project.
Campbell said at no time will the intersections of Princess and King streets and Princess and Ontario streets be closed at the same time. He added that timelines will be followed.
“It will be done on June 30 one way or another. We will be out of there,” Campbell said.
But that won’t be the end of work on Princess Street. The Downtown Action Plan called for replacing more of what’s taking place this spring. Eventually, the stone box sewers will be replaced and the roadway reconstructed right up to Division Street.