THE hidden jumble of water pipes, gas pipes and electric cables running beneath Edinburgh’s streets have been a constant stumbling block for the Capital’s tram project.
Unexpected delays and increasing costs have been the result so the news that there are still more utility pipes to move surely means more delays and more cost rises.
Not, however, if the council’s latest secret weapon is reliable.
Radar-scanning of city streets means that hopefully there will be no repeat of the previous chaos where up to 80 per cent of the information on the location of pipes and cables proved to be inaccurate.
City development director Dave Anderson said the project management now had an “X-ray” picture of the situation around Shandwick Place – said to be the worst location for these “conflicts” – to help pinpoint problem areas.
He said: “We’ve carried out radar scanning and dug slit trenches along the route. We now have a very good understanding of exactly what is down there.”
He said the £776 million trams budget included a substantial “risk reserve” to cover unforeseen problems.
He said that those in charge of the project were confident the trams would be up and running by the summer of 2014.
The next phase of work on the project gets under way in the new year. Work on moving the utility pipes and cables will start a month ahead of the main construction work.
The workmen dealing with the utilities will try to keep 20 or 30 metres ahead of the contractors carrying out the main work.
Workmen will be back on Princes Street on January 3, putting up fencing ready for construction work re-starting on January 9.
The drive to press ahead with completing the route from Haymarket to St Andrew Square will mean the closure of Shandwick Place and North and South St Andrew Street early in the new year, with a series of diversions for buses and motorists.
People are being warned to allow an extra ten minutes for their journeys through the city centre.
The council said pedestrian access to all areas would be maintained, with crossing points created where necessary, and clear signage in place for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.
Work will start in the St Andrew Square area on Saturday, January 7. The east side of the square, including North and South St Andrew Street, will be closed to vehicles and all traffic will be switched to the west side.
The work site will extend down on to Princes Street and west as far as Waverley Bridge. There will still be access to shops and premises, while additional support will be put in place for business deliveries.
Work is due to be completed by the end of 2012.
Buses which would normally run along Princes Street will continue to be diverted along George Street.
A narrowed roadway on Princes Street near Waverley Bridge – to accommodate track-laying and construction work going on at Princes Mall to install a lift to Waverley station – will mean traffic lights allowing only one bus at a time to pass.
The east side of Charlotte Square is to revert to two-way traffic, with the west side becoming access only.
At Shandwick Place, work begins on Saturday, January 14, with Shandwick Place closed to all traffic between Atholl Crescent and Lothian Road.
Traffic will be diverted to either Melville Street for eastbound traffic or the West Approach Road for westbound traffic.
Work is due to be completed by spring 2013.
Letters are being sent to residents and businesses informing them of the planned works and officials are having face-to-face meetings with traders to help with any access problems.
Mr Anderson said: “We are now moving forward with the project and, from January, work on all sections of the route, from the airport to St Andrew Square, will be under way.
“Although this latest programme of works will last throughout 2012, it is important to understand that the project has now reached a critical stage and that we need to push ahead with required work as efficiently as possible.
“We would like to thank the people of Edinburgh for their continued patience throughout this process and reassure them that project is on track to be completed within our current timescale.”
Transport convener Gordon Mackenzie added: “We have been working closely with city centre businesses to minimise the impact on trade during the course of the works, committing close to £1m to our business support scheme over the next two years.
“With the support of our partners and stakeholders, and thanks to the cooperation of the public, the city has adapted well in the past to similar changes in traffic management and we are confident that, once the arrangements bed in, they will enable us to keep Edinburgh moving for the duration of the works.”