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Washington Street reopens after underground repairs

Motorists and pedestrians finally were allowed Friday to return to a busy stretch of Washington Street in downtown Buffalo.

The section of the key north-south street between East Eagle and Clinton streets had been closed for more than five weeks as a safety precaution because of a decaying underground vault under the pavement near Lafayette Square.

Crews originally thought the street would remain closed for only a few days, but they encountered some underground surprises. Many old pipes were wrapped in asbestos, so a cleanup was ordered. Then, excavation crews caused minor damage to a conduit, which required repairs.

Over the past week or so, crews have filled the tunnel with 220 cubic yards of a liquid concrete, known as "flowable fill," Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak said.

Since the street was closed, many motorists have been using Ellicott Street and Michigan Avenue as alternative routes. Many pedestrians have been walking along Main Street.

Stepniak said the prolonged closure hasn't spurred too many complaints.

"But we don't like to see people face these kind of inconveniences," he said.

The underground work will cost between $100,000 to $150,000, said Peter J. Merlo, the city's chief engineer. The decaying vault belongs to New Horizons Acquisitions, the Long Island-based developer that owns the old AM&A's department store complex. Stepniak said the city has covered the repair costs to avoid delays, but plans to bill the vault's owner.

"I think there's a high likelihood of a legal fight," Stepniak said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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