Howard, Lombard junction reopens

Traffic able to flow freely for first time since break of water main July 18

September 05, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

There was no ribbon to cut, but smiling city officials did the next best thing yesterday: dragging away a barrier from the junction of Howard and Lombard streets to show that the key downtown crossing was back in service.

Traffic flowed freely again for the first time since a water main broke seven weeks earlier and caused $1.5 million in damage to the intersection. Such was the celebratory mood that Mayor Martin O'Malley, who does not usually attend street openings, was on hand.

After police motorcycles escorted a firetruck and city vehicles over the new pavement, motorists got their turn about 7:15 a.m.

But light rail is not expected to resume on Howard until Sunday at the earliest, in time for the Ravens home opener, said Mass Transit Administration spokeswoman Suzanne Bond. She said engineers need to inspect electrical wires that run overhead and make sure signals are working.

The intersection had been closed since July 18, when a burst 40-inch water main was found two hours after a 60-car freight train derailed and caught fire in the Howard Street Tunnel, which passes under the water main.

"It's been a lot of work and pressure for a lot of people," said Robert Murrow, spokesman for the Department of Public Works. The broken main spewed more than 60 million gallons before crews could end the flow.

Because that type of pipe is no longer made, the city had to custom-order a coupler from an Arkansas foundry so the 36-inch-wide pipe could be connected to the 40-inch main. Then the intersection had to be rebuilt, forcing traffic detours.

O'Malley said the reopening marked the end of the tunnel saga, according to Murrow, although investigators have not determined what caused the train wreck.

No one was more relieved to see automobiles rolling by than Peter Komar, manager of the Holiday Inn at the southeast corner. "We're very, very excited," he said.

Although police allowed hotel customers and employees to use Lombard Street to reach the hotel, Komar said, "We had some guests come in with a bit of a chip on their shoulder."

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