Fort Wayne City Utilities have revealed the name for the 400-feet-long, 20-feet-wide machine that will soon begin boring the five-mile-long deep rock tunnel at a news conference Aug. 7. That name is MamaJo.

The deep rock tunnel project, also known as the Three Rivers Protection and Overflow Reduction Tunnel, is the biggest public works project in the city’s history.

The project is an effort to improve river quality and comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Like more than 700 cities in the United States, portions of Fort Wayne’s sewers (about a third) are combined, meaning they use a single pipe system to carry a combination of sanitary sewage and storm water.

During dry weather, the system’s capacity is adequate to carry this wastewater to the sewage treatment plant. But when it rains, the added storm water can cause the system to overflow and wastewater is discharged into the rivers.

Like its name suggests, the Three Rivers Protection and Overflow Reduction Tunnel will catch much of this overflow and transport it to the sewage treatment plant and away from the rivers.

Below the surface

The most transformative part of the $240-million project is taking place more than 200 feet underground, where the tunnel boring machine will excavate a tunnel 19 feet in diameter beginning at the working shaft site east of downtown near Memorial Park and ending its journey at Foster Park. Check out the Tunnel Works route map here.

The machine is expected to start its journey and begin digging the tunnel later this year. Completion of the tunnel boring is expected by 2021. The tunnel will be operational in 2023.

Before the news conference, members of the media were invited to see the progress that has been made over the last nine months at the 66-feet-wide working shaft. Wearing bright yellow vests, steel-toed boots and safety glasses, groups of about eight entered a metal “cage” and were crane lifted and lowered into the more than 200-feet-deep mining shaft.

8.7.18 Deep Rock Tunnel

Descending more than 200 feet into the working shaft for the deep rock tunnel project

Posted by In Fort Wayne on Tuesday, August 7, 2018

At the bottom, the construction team worked to cover the shaft walls in a welded wire mesh. The walls are then coated with concrete to prevent loose limestone rock from falling on workers, said T.J. Short, City Utilities project manager.

The tunnel boring machine was built by German manufacturer Herrenknecht. While several components of the machine have already arrived at the working shaft site, Short said the major components are expected to arrive this week.

Naming the machine

The name MamaJo is derived from taking the first two letters from Fort Wayne’s three rivers, the Ma from Marys, Ma from Maumee and Jo from Joseph.

Earlier this year, City Utilities worked with neighborhood leaders and students at New Tech Academy and Towles Intermediate School to come up with possible names for the tunnel boring machine. Students voted to narrow the list to four, and the community voted online to choose a winner. MamaJo received more than 43 percent of the votes, according to a statement from City Utilities.

According to a statement issued by City Utilities, mining tradition warrants naming the machine.

“Mining lore says that as far back as the 1500s, workers prayed to Saint Barbara for protection while working in the dark underground. Since then, it’s been tradition to name the tunnel boring machine,” the statement read.

“The naming of the [tunnel boring machine] brings a little fun to an important community project that will serve our community well for generations to come,” Kumar Menon, director of City Utilities, said in a prepared statement. “This massive five-mile-long sewer tunnel will protect our rivers, protect neighborhoods and help support thousands of good paying jobs over the next five years. It will support a renewed interest in riverfront development and business expansion, while engaging our schools and colleges in environmental improvements that will enrich our region for generations to come.”

Tunneling toward cleaner rivers

During periods of heavy rainfall or snowmelt, combined sewer systems can be overwhelmed by the volume of wastewater. These sewers are designed to overflow and discharge excess wastewater directly into waterways. These overflows contain not only storm water but also untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials and debris, according to the EPA.

A typical year of rain will trigger the city’s combined sewer overflows to discharge 71 times. The city predicts that the deep rock tunnel project will reduce these overflow events to just four times per year. Here’s how it will work.

“In six years when the tunnel is operational, we will see several benefits. The biggest benefit will be a 90 percent reduction in the amount of combined sewer overflow going into our rivers. That’s a reduction of more than 850 billion gallons on average each year,” Matthew Wirtz, deputy director of engineering for City Utilities, said in a prepared statement. “Additionally, our creeks and streams will be cleaner as will waterways downstream and all the way to Lake Erie. We will also see a reduction in neighborhood street flooding and basement back-ups.”

At the news conference, Wirtz said the project will protect the rivers, create jobs and support the economy for years to come.

“Already 15 companies and over 200 workers have been involved in the project and we haven’t even started digging the tunnel yet,” he said.

MamaJo will host tours on Sunday, Sept. 9, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the working shaft site near the intersection of Dwenger and Glasgow avenues. Residents can learn more and get tunnel updates at