Integrys replacing aging Chicago distribution system.

Author:Reed, Michael

With about 2,000 miles of cast iron mains to replace within its Peoples Gas distribution system, Integrys Energy Group would be facing a huge job, even in the friendliest of environments.

That the work is taking place in one of the most densely populated cities in the United States--Chicago--and involves replacing about 300,000 services pipes and related meters, increases the degree of difficulty substantially.


"Replacing the remainder of the cast iron in our system means we are essentially installing about half of our system as brand new within 20 years," said Bill Morrow, executive vice president of the Integrys gas division.

The $2.5 billion project, which began in April 2011, will reduce the risk to the distribution system, increase efficiency and bring long-term environmental and service benefits to the community. Thus far about 35,000 service pipes have been replaced and 245 miles of the cast-iron conductor system have been retired.1

While no one said the undertaking would be easy, the biggest test for workers has been maneuvering, simply because of the lack of unoccupied space in which to operate. Chicago is not just an old city, heavily urbanized at its center, but it offers little in the way of more open suburban space for miles around.

"If you think of the Loop or the downtown area, that is the toughest challenge of them all, because there is literally not a trench you can run in the street without running into another utility," Morrow said. "Coordination with all the other underground infrastructure owners is critical in the work we do in the central business district."

Obviously, this makes working with other underground infrastructure owners even more critical than usual. There have also been significant traffic hurdles to overcome. With parking at a premium in the city and idle vehicles lining both sides of the street, workers face difficulty not just moving in their heavy equipment, but in finding places to leave their own cars when they report for work.

"Before we even started to dig or navigate how you put the pipe in, we had to consider traffic for the safety of customers and our employees," he said. "Significant planning is needed before you even start to work in an urban area."



Working With The City

Integrys found a huge supporter for its replacement effort in City Hall. Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration introduced a 10-year water and sewer...

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