Atlanta is beginning work on what will become a reservoir holding an emergency backup water supply for the city. Right now, it's Bellwood Quarry, a gargantuan hole in the ground west of Midtown, set in what will one day be the city's largest park.
Work on the giant park, which will be partially made up of the area's 300 acres, comes later. Eventually, it will be bigger than Piedmont Park and connected to the BeltLine and Proctor Creek, which the city is planning on restoring. Atlanta will start a planning process on the future Westside Park later this year.
But the reservoir, which will eventually hold more than a billion gallons of water, is well past the planning stage. It is expected to be completed in 2018.
"For a long time this was schematics, it was drawings on paper," said Lillian Govus, director of communications at Atlanta's Department of Watershed Management.
The past couple of weeks, a crew has used ropes to climb up and down the walls of the quarry, knocking down loose rocks.
“You can sort of hear in the distance the sound of rocks falling as this crew that's here from Colorado is scaling the sides of the quarry,” said Govus.
From an observation point across the quarry, the safety-jacket-clad climbers looked like neon ants. Govus said it will take them several weeks to work their way around the quarry, making sure rocks won't fall when the main construction begins.
On Wednesday, blasting starts to dig shafts 400 feet down to the floor of the quarry.
But all of that is just prelude to the tunnel boring machine, an enormous, custom-built drill, that's currently being partially built out of state. Later this year it will take 70 trucks to get it to Atlanta.
“Come June those 70 some odd trucks will come barreling down from Ohio,” said Govus.
They'll put the machine together at the quarry. That'll take a few months.
“Come September,” she said, “we'll start it on its way.”
The tunnel boring machine — to be named in May by the public, says Govus — will dig a 12.5-foot diameter tunnel under Marietta Street and under Howell Mill Road. It'll dig five miles, to connect this giant hole near Bankhead to a water treatment plant and the Chattahoochee River. The tunnel will be lined with concrete, making a 10-foot diameter pipe for the water to travel through.