CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- You're out of luck if you try to head up South Ruffner Road these days, at least during normal working hours.
And if you're among the 300 or so families that live along Lick Branch or its tributaries, you have to take a long detour through Loudon Heights to avoid the sewer project that's inching up South Ruffner.
The roadblock can turn a one-minute trip from the mouth of the hollow to the South Side Bridge into a five-mile, 15-minute scenic tour along Hampton Road and Loudon Heights Road.
It's a necessary evil, said James Pierson, project manager with Pipe Plus Inc., the Nitro contractor working on the job.
"The road's going to be closed from 7:30 [a.m.] to 6 [p.m.] Monday to Thursday unless we get rained out," Pierson said. "If it rains Tuesday, we'll work on Friday to get our 40 hours in.
"I wouldn't want it if it was my road," he said.
Local residents seem to be taking it in stride, at least so far, say City Council members from the area.
"There's no question it's an inconvenience," said Mike Clowser of Ward 21, who said he's gotten one complaint since work started last month.
He and Ward 17 Councilman Bobby Reishman said a well-attended town-hall meeting at South Ruffner Baptist Church last year helped prepare residents, as did flyers hung door-to-door by the Charleston Sanitary Board two weeks before work started.
"I think the sanitary board and the engineer did a good job of explaining the project," Clowser said. "There's going to be dirt and dust when it's 90 degrees and mud when it rains. I think the biggest question that came up was the road closures.
"I think most of the residents understand the city is under a consent agreement to upgrade its sewers."
The city of Charleston signed an agreement with state and federal regulators in 2005 to fix its outdated sewage-collection system and reduce the amount of polluted water that enters rivers. According to some estimates, the total cost could reach $250 million.
"This is another step in our long-term control plan. That's the combined sewer-reduction plan," said Larry Roller, general manager of the sanitary board.
"Charleston is one of many communities that is considered a combined-sewer community," Roller said. During hard rains, its storm and sanitary sewers combine and overflow into the Kanawha River.
But by plugging holes and cracks in feeder lines like the one that runs down the creek bed of Lick Branch, rainwater no longer can flow in and overwhelm the system. Also, in dry times, sewage can't leak out into the creek.
The Lick Branch-South Ruffner Sewer Rehabilitation Project calls for replacing seven miles of sewer lines and putting a plastic liner in a mile of existing pipe, at a cost of $11.6 million.
It also involves more than 300 customer connections, 270 manholes and about 400 temporary easements that allow contractors to work on private property.
Sanitary board contractors are winding up a similar, $27 million project, along Kanawha Two-Mile that frustrated neighbors last year with potholes, dust and delays along dead-end Sugar Creek Drive.