Discovery of 40-foot sinkhole closes stretch of Cathedral St.

No timetable established to reopen downtown street

40-foot sinkhole appears on Cathedral St.

July 24, 2004|By Lester J. Davis | Lester J. Davis,SUN STAFF

A 40-foot-deep sinkhole opened in a downtown Baltimore street yesterday, and city officials said it may be a month before the street is reopened.

The sinkhole, in the 600 block of Cathedral St., was discovered by an alert valet at the Peabody Court Hotel during yesterday morning's rush hour commute.

No one was injured, but city officials quickly closed Cathedral Street to motorists seeking to travel south through Mount Vernon into downtown.

The sinkhole likely was caused by a cracked 82-inch sewer pipe that runs beneath the street, said George L. Winfield, director of the Department of Public Works.

Officials stressed that they wouldn't know for certain how long the street will remain closed until engineers conduct an assessment Monday morning.

"Nobody wants to promise anything because it could take longer," said Kurt L. Kocher, a public works spokesman.

The pipe was installed in the early 1900s. Once the break formed in the top of the pipe, the soil underneath the asphalt began to erode. Sewage then flushed the soil through the pipe, which allowed room for more soil to be eaten away, Kocher said.

City officials said that while the broken pipe along Cathedral Street is the same type of pipe that caused a massive sinkhole seven years ago along Park Avenue, this situation isn't expected to cause as much inconvenience. The Park Avenue sinkhole cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars and caused underground gas explosions and fires.

The new sinkhole is just steps away from the Peabody Court Hotel. Jason Curtis, the general manager, said he first learned of it at 7:30 a.m. when he received a phone call from his valet workers. After he notified police, city workers arrived an hour later and cordoned off the street, he said.

The asphalt surrounding the sinkhole "looked very weak and a car could have fallen in it," Curtis said.

City officials said the repairs shouldn't cause problems for businesses and residents along Cathedral and Monument streets other than the road closings.

The closed street attracted a crowd of gawkers yesterday afternoon as public works and transportation officials scrambled to assess the damage.

"I'd like to know what's underneath it," said Richard Frank, a visitor from Seattle, as he stared at the sinkhole. "It'd be awful to have someone drop in it."

Stacy Deighton of Perry Hall said she's surprised sinkholes don't pop up around the city more often.

"Most of the city streets are in terrible condition and there are holes everywhere," said Deighton, who works for a publishing company on West Monument Street.

Mary Kowalerich was on her way to the Walters Art Museum with her daughter when she noticed the hole in the middle of the street. Kowalerich was cautioned to remain behind the orange cone perimeter when she ventured too close to the hole.

"I'm not going to fall in," said Kowalerich, who'd never seen a sinkhole up close. "I'm just going to look."

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