By Jeff Lehr

Globe Staff Writer

Work on the Willow Branch storm-sewer project in downtown Joplin is progressing more rapidly than anticipated, a city official said this week.

One month into the $2.6 million project, the contractors are nearing completion of the leg that has forced the closing of Virginia Avenue to through traffic at Sixth Street.

"Virginia Avenue will be opening back up the first part of April," said David Hertzberg, assistant public works director.

City officials had projected that Virginia Avenue might be closed through June. The next leg of the project, along Sixth Street and across Main Street, is potentially the most disruptive to downtown pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

The project is intended to enhance storm-water drainage along the Willow Branch line, which runs from Byers Avenue at Seventh Street to Virginia Avenue at Sixth Street and passes under a number of downtown buildings. Instead of replacing the existing line, the city is adding a second line that takes a somewhat different course through the downtown, primarily along Sixth Street.

A recent study that identified more than 40 locations where storm-water work is needed in Joplin found the highest concentrations of property damage from flooding along the Willow Branch line.

The second line is intended to increase capacity enough to lower the annual risk of flooding from 50 percent to 4 percent.

The contractor will proceed westward block by block to Byers Avenue, then head south to Seventh Street.

The work was expected to take about a year to complete. The contract with Mid-TEC of Anderson carries a deadline of Feb. 4, 2004.

This Week's Circulars