Science Center exhibit showcases $200 million waterway protection tunnel

The ribbon is cut on the waterway exhibit at the Kentucky Science Center.

The Kentucky Science Center’s new exhibit showcases MSD’s new waterway protection tunnel. | Photo by Jeremy Chisenhall

The Kentucky Science Center cut the ribbon on the new waterway protection tunnel exhibit on Wednesday, an attraction that calls attention to an 18-story tunnel being built by the Louisville Metro Sewer District to help control the flow of wastewater and stormwater in Louisville.

This tunnel is expected to help resolve environmental issues, as more than five billion gallons of rainwater and wastewater overflow into Louisville’s waterways each year. It is an “innovative approach” that allows MSD to address and control the overflows, MSD Executive Director Tony Parrott said.

The project will cost $200 million, MSD said. MSD is going to spend $1.15 billion in total to reduce sewer overflows by 2024. This is one part of that.

“This is a project that is probably the largest project in Jefferson County that nobody will ever see,” Parrott said. “It’s a project that will obviously benefit everybody in Louisville and Jefferson County.”

According to MSD, the tunnel was started at 11th and Rowan streets, and they tunneled over to a drop shaft located right behind the science center. The tunnel will store some of the overflow water underground and hold it until there is space in the sewers. MSD has bored out about 2,000 feet of the tunnel so far, Parrott said.

With the stormwater runoff issues, the initial plan was to close Main Street, Mayor Greg Fischer said. MSD came up with the tunnel plan to keep the construction and maintenance from disrupting downtown too much.

“We had a heck of a problem, and the challenge was going to be, what were we going to do with all this stormwater runoff … we’re now having more frequent bouts of high-intensity rain,” Mayor Greg Fischer said. “So where’s the rain going to go? How are we going to keep our water clean so that we have pure drinking water, and we’re protecting the life in our river and creeks as well.”

The exhibit in the Science Center showcases core samples from the Earth where the digging started. The samples reveal a history that dates back 300 million years. Guests at the center can check out the samples and take part in the interactive exhibit that explains how the tunnel works.

“The first thing that I said when I found out that this project was going to be on my doorstep for three long years, I said, ‘Can we get the core samples here?” said Jo Haas, CEO of the Kentucky Science Center. “We have some of the great geology that tells us a little bit about the world that is being unearthed.”

The tunnel is expected to be operational by 2020, MSD said.

The waterway protection tunnel exhibit at the Kentucky Science Center

Even though the ribbon cutting ceremony was held Wednesday, the exhibit has been open to guests of the center. | Photo by Jeremy Chisenhall

This post has been updated to clarify the point of origin of the tunnel.