No water as cars crunch temporary pipes

WATCH DOG

August 05, 2008|By LIZ F. KAY

THE PROBLEM Temporary above-ground pipes bringing water to Federal Hill homes during a water-main rehabilitation project are damaged by parking cars, leaving residents without water.

THE BACKSTORY Sarah De Santis considers herself a typical Baltimore city resident, the kind that enjoys showering, making dinner, doing laundry, watering her plants and washing her hands.

It has been harder to enjoy those simple pleasures in recent months as a water main rehabilitation project commenced in her Federal Hill neighborhood.

De Santis and her neighbors were informed in a March letter from the city that water would be shut off when a temporary line was attached as well as intermittently when work was being done.

What she didn't expect, however, were outages when the temporary lines, which run above ground parallel to the curb, were damaged by parking cars and other hazards.

Last week, water was restored to her home after a Tuesday break but the water pressure was low for two days as a geyser of water sprayed into the air in an alley, De Santis said.

"Ideally they would structure the above-ground pipes so they would not be subject to being run over by car tires," she said.

When water is out, De Santis calls 311 to page the contractor, as well as calls the contractor's answering service directly. Usually it takes more than an hour to restore water, she said.

Public Works spokesman Kurt Kocher said the department would investigate to see if it's possible to provide additional warning about potential outages due to scheduled repairs, but he was not confident that much can be done about accidents.

The work is part of an extensive project that includes cleaning and replacement of lines in an area bounded by Hanover Street, Key Highway, Randall Street and Fort Avenue.

The contractor has been tackling different neighborhoods within that area over eight- to 12-week intervals, Kocher said. Unfortunately, Federal Hill is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, with narrow streets and old infrastructure, he said, and the contractor has had to replace more lines than anticipated. Also, it's a busy community with lots of vehicle traffic, and drivers are hitting the pipes despite the cones marking construction and the service lines that are painted orange.

"We don't want to take anybody out of water unnecessarily," Kocher said. "Our contractor is doing [its] best to ensure minimal interruption."

Sometimes workers might be turning the valves and they might break, he said. At other times, he said it would take more time to knock on doors and alert residents than it would to shut down water, make the necessary repairs and restore it again. But in the situations De Santis described, the contractor responded within an hour and a half, which Kocher described as reasonable.

"We'll revisit this issue to see if we can do any additional notification," Kocher said.

He recommended that residents, knowing that sudden water outages may occur, keep some buckets and bottles of water handy for immediate needs.

WHO CAN FIX THIS Paul Burgee, construction projects supervisor, Baltimore Department of Public Works, 410-396-3671. City residents can also call 311 to report problems.

Liz F. Kay

UPDATE

The railroad tracks have been removed from Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills, a Watchdog spy reports.

Several readers had complained in June about a stomach-dropping dip and uneven road surface near Owings Mills Boulevard due to tracks that had sat unused for years.

Last weekend, CSX workers removed the tracks, and the State Highway Administration assisted with lane closures.

Watchdog's spy reports that the road is "much much much improved."

Some readers had expressed concern that fixing the road would prompt motorists to speed through the intersection. However, the spy said a slight dip still remains, although it's definitely better than the bone-rattling jolt that one used to experience in this area. The bottom line? Drivers should still slow down, the spy said.

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