One hundred-ninety-six feet up, the sky was just a circle of white light, split in half by a metal catwalk.
It's there, among the dirt, rocks and water, that Fort Wayne's tunnel boring machine will begin its slow, 18-month, five-mile trek from Glasgow Avenue to Foster Park.
On Tuesday, in accordance with hundreds of years of mining tradition, City Utilities officials unveiled the name of the tunnel boring machine: MamaJo.
It's an amalgamation of the first two letters of each of Fort Wayne's three rivers – the Maumee, the St. Marys and the St. Joseph.
Name ideas were selected by students at New Tech Academy and Towles Intermediate School and then voted on in a public online poll. MamaJo received more than 43 percent of the vote.
“The naming of the TBM brings a little fun to an important community project that will serve our community well for generations to come,” Kumar Menon, director of City Utilities, said in a statement.
“This massive five-mile-long sewer tunnel will protect our rivers, protect neighborhoods and help support thousands of good-paying jobs over the next five years.
“It will support a renewed interest in riverfront development and business expansion, while engaging our schools and colleges in environmental improvements that will enrich our region for generations to come.”
Once complete, the Three Rivers Protection and Overflow Reduction Tunnel will significantly reduce the number of combined sewer overflow events into the community's three rivers. At $188 million, it's the largest and most expensive public works project ever undertaken by the city of Fort Wayne.
“In six years when the tunnel is operational, we will see several benefits. The biggest benefit will be a 90 percent reduction in the amount of combined sewer overflow going into our rivers. That's a reduction of more than 850 billion gallons on average each year,” Matthew Wirtz, deputy director of City Utilities, said in a statement Tuesday.
“Additionally, our creeks and streams will be cleaner as will waterways downstream and all the way to Lake Erie. We will also see a reduction in neighborhood street flooding and basement back-ups.”
The walls of the working shaft near the city's sewage treatment plant were damp with water that poured from embedded pipes. Below, workers in brightly colored ponchos worked in the muck and damp to prepare the shaft for MamaJo, which stands at more than 20 feet in diameter and stretches more than 400 feet in length.
MamaJo will begin its work this year, with a completion date of 2021.
The tunnel will then be connected to neighborhood sewers by 2023 and will become operational later that year.
More information about the tunnel can be found at www.fortwaynetunnel.org.