SAUGUS — More than 100,000 vehicles each day roll along Route 1 in Saugus, where traffic jams seem as familiar as the glitzy kitsch that has made the six-lane state highway an icon of roadside America.
Most tie-ups are not caused by drivers slowing down to gawk at the 12-foot orange dinosaur at the Route 1 Miniature Golf & Batting Cages, the Leaning Tower of Pizza at Prince Restaurant, or the giant Polynesian gods above the entrance to the Kowloon.
Sometimes the tie-ups are the result of broken water main pipes that flood the highway, cause traffic slowdowns, and often force businesses along the commercial corridor to close.
“When there is a break, everything comes to a standstill,” said Stanley Wong, an owner of the Kowloon, near where a pipe on the northbound side frequently bursts. “They have to close down lanes, or sometimes the whole road. That’s never a good thing, especially on a Saturday night.”
But Route 1’s water main woes may soon be in the rearview mirror.
The state and Massachusetts Water Resources Authority are spending millions to replace brittle, old pipes crisscrossing beneath the divided highway in Lynnfield and Saugus.
A $2.8 million project, which started June 25 on the northbound side, is installing a 12-inch-diameter water main for nearly a mile, from Main Street to Home Depot.
“The infamous Route 1 water mains will finally be fixed,” said Paul Ross, a vice president at CDM Smith, which designed the project.
The state Office of Housing and Economic Development last Monday signed a contract with Saugus for an $841,000 MassWorks grant, the last piece of public funding for one of the region’s top transportation projects.
“Route 1 is the central artery for the North Shore,” said state Senator Thomas M. McGee, a Lynn Democrat and Senate chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation. “We were able to identify funding. The [Patrick] administration saw the merit of it.”
The Legislature approved $2 million last November, but the final $841,000 required a MassWorks grant, which is available for infrastructure improvements.
“This will put the finishing touches on the project,” said Victoria Maguire, an official with the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. “This is going to have an impact on business, traffic, and safety in that area.”
Separately, the MWRA is spending $5.9 million to replace another water main, running along both sides of the highway, that will improve water quality and service to both Saugus and Lynnfield.
And Saugus last year installed a 12-inch water pipe on Route 1 south, from the Lynnfield town line to the Lynn Fells Parkway, at a cost of about $3 million, funded by zero-interest loans from the MWRA.
Construction on the main MWRA pipe is ongoing, with work limited to weekdays from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. so commuter travel is not disrupted. A few obstacles discovered during construction have forced the contract to be extended by 21 days, with completion now slated for early 2013, according to the MWRA.
“There were [other] unforeseen obstacles, such as several asbestos cement sewer and drain lines and a large concrete structure that wasn’t shown on record drawings,” Ria Convery, an MWRA spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
The MWRA water main, which passes under Route 1 in both directions, should improve the system for the Lynnfield Water District, which serves 30 percent of that town’s households, according to the district’s website.
In Saugus, the new water main on Route 1 north will serve the heart of a commercial corridor where businesses are weary of losing customers because of pipe breaks.
“We’re all smiling now,” said Wong, of the Kowloon, one of the oldest restaurants on Route 1 “This is going to help everyone along this area of Route 1. If the water main broke, there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it.”
Gilmar Pinto, owner of Midwest Grill, a Brazilian barbecue restaurant on the northbound side, agreed the new pipes should be an improvement.
“It looks like they’re doing things right,” he said, noting that construction has not affected business.
The new water main will be buried about 6 feet under the breakdown lane. Seven fire hydrants will be placed approximately every 500 feet.
RJV Construction of Canton, the contractor for the project, has a crew of 15 workers on the job. About 1,000 cubic yards of gravel and rock has been dug up, and is being temporarily piled at a staging area at the Main Street interchange. The material will be tested for contaminants before being trucked away, said Querino Pacella, the project manager.
“We have hit some ledge,” Pacella said at the site one recent morning. “That definitely slows us down. . . . We’ve had to break it apart.”
About 3,800 feet of the total 5,000 feet of pipe has been installed.
“The new pipe should improve the water flow,” Pacella said. “The old pipe was cast iron. It had seen its time.”