A section of Montgomery Road in the Elkridge area of Howard County will close tomorrow for a week, as county public works employees make emergency preventive repairs on a 36-inch water main they fear could break at any time.
Repair crews will be working around the clock to fix two dangerously long cracks in the big, prestressed concrete pipe that runs up to Mayfield Road from the Elkridge Water Pumping Station, said Thomas Butler, engineering chief at the Department of Public Works.
Montgomery Road between Landing Road and Elibank Drive will be closed through Jan. 1.
The 21,100-foot section of pipe isjust 14 years old, but it has given the county a century's worth of trouble. It has ruptured five times, according to the county officials. The most recent break, which sent water spewing into a stream near Interstate 95, occurred June 22, Mr. Butler said.
After that break, a team of consultants was hired to examine the entire length of the pipeline.
They found that at least two sections of the pipe were in a state of "imminent failure," Mr. Butler said.
The cracks were so bad -- they were 9 to 10 feet long -- that the county could not put the line back into service but had to reroute the water through alternative lines, he said.
According to Michael A. Giovanniello, deputy chief of the Bureau of Utilities, it will cost about $60,000 to make the repairs. County workers will replace two sections of pipe -- one 20 feet long and the other 40 feet long -- that have cracked.
Because water has already been rerouted, no residents will find themselves without water the day after Christmas, he said. Moreover, the construction area is all public, not private, property.
County officials say they have not gotten their money's worth from the pipeline, which they said could cost $8.5 million to replace.
Considering that a major water main should last 30 to 50 years, Mr. Butler said, "It has failed in a very brief amount of time."
He said that because of the nature of the cracks, which run down the length of the pipes, it was likely they originated in the factory.
Similar prestressed concrete pipes made by the same company -- the Interpace Corp. -- have created problems for other governments around the country. Interpace operated a plant in Ohio in the 1970s but is now bankrupt.
James Irvin, the director of the Public Works Department, said, "We are interested in getting some recovery, but so are a lot of other jurisdictions." He added that the consultants had yet to complete their study of the pipe. Any legal action would have to wait until then, he said.
To be on the safe side, the county has budgeted $744,000 for land acquisition, engineering and planning this fiscal year, to begin the process of completely replacing the affected stretch of pipe if needed.
"Obviously," he said, "a break in a main like this can be a major problem. We want to get this fixed and out of the way as quickly as possible."