A nearly 3-mile-long tube spews mountains of sand from Fire Island Inlet onto a nearby beach, day and night, as repairs to Ocean Parkway and the dunes ravaged by superstorm Sandy pick up speed.
Crews already have collected much of the tons of sand the storm moved across the roadway and median strip between Tobay and Cedar beaches. They have also started tearing up some of the roughly 2,000 feet of damaged pavement.
The work is in a race against time and winter weather. Despite snow, ice, driving rain and biting winds, crews must meet an April 24 deadline imposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. He set that date to make sure the road and beaches open before summer and to qualify the work for full federal reimbursement.
"The project's in full swing now. The dredge is under way and we're moving this thing forward," said Lou Bove, president of East Setauket-based Bove Industries, which is partnering on the estimated $35 million project with John P. Picone Inc. and Tully Construction.
As Friday's blizzard approached, workers put the finishing touches on fusing the 14,000-foot steel and polyurethane pipeline through which 790,000 cubic yards of sand is coursing -- enough to fill the Madison Square Garden arena 31/2 times -- to rebuild dunes along the parkway. Without dunes, the road's sole buffer, another storm could bring more flooding and road damage.
"The key is getting the sand in place," said Peter Tully, president of Tully Construction of Queens. "The roading project itself is a very simple two- to three-week job."
Virginia-based Norfolk Dredging is working round the clock, pumping 1,400 to 1,600 cubic yards an hour, depending on the weather, to deliver all of the sand in about a month.
An eggbeater-like attachment joined to the dredge swirls sand and water in a broad sweep across the Fire Island inlet channel floor. The mix of saltwater and sand is then sucked into the pipe and pumped to a pile east of Gilgo that now covers an area the size of about two football fields to about the height of a 3-story building.
Bulldozers, payloaders and 40-ton, 10-wheel off-road dump trucks then move the sand 5 miles west to the beach where dune rebuilding is under way.
Crews Wednesday said they moved 80 loads of sand in four hours. Each truckload holds 35 cubic yards of sand -- about the equivalent of 35 washing machines. They're aiming for 200 loads per eight-hour shift in optimum conditions.
Battling the wind has been the biggest issue so far, workers said. The 14-mile section of the parkway from the Jones Beach water tower to the Robert Moses Causeway closed Jan. 31 when a nor'easter swept sand onto the western side of the parkway, where traffic in both directions has been diverted since Sandy.
Workers have since erected 600 feet of storm erosion fencing west of Gilgo to try to hold the sand in place until the replacement dune is built.
More sand will be pumped ashore in coming weeks to rebuild and restore dunes near the Robert Moses traffic circle, which Sandy also undermined, and replenish beaches at Robert Moses State Park, officials said. Once temperatures reliably reach 40 degrees, crews will start to pour replacement concrete for the roadway before adding the final layer of asphalt, officials said.
Painting road markings and planting dunes with more than a million beach grass plugs and other indigenous vegetation will occur in the final weeks.
An initial design included measures engineers hoped would harden the road and dunes against future flooding and extreme weather. But those measures were put on hold because the work wouldn't be covered by the emergency federal funds used to restore the road.
Those efforts are now being considered by state and federal officials as part of a broader discussion about the state's priorities for infrastructure hardening, Department of Transportation chief engineer Phillip Eng said.
Fixing Ocean Parkway
The project, to be completed by April 24, includes:
790,200 cubic yards of sand to build dunes
1.2 million beach grass root plugs to be planted
115,352 indigenous shrubs to be planted
174,823 vines and groundcover to be planted
7,200 square yards of damaged pavement to be removed