Water Main Fix May Take Till Friday

April 30, 2009|By Gus G. Sentementes and Annie Linskey | Gus G. Sentementes and Annie Linskey,gus.sentementes@baltsun.com and annie.linskey@baltsun.com

A portion of downtown Baltimore affected by a massive water main break earlier this week may not be back to normal until at least Friday, city officials said.

Several city agencies coordinated on tackling the gushing water main, which burst Tuesday morning at the intersection of Gay and Lombard streets around 6 a.m. and flooded several streets in the area. Six buildings in the area were closed Wednesday, including the Civil Division District Courthouse on Fayette Street, as they either had low water pressure, or no water at all.

City leaders, including Mayor Sheila Dixon, blamed the break on the overall state of the city's water lines, which they described as aging and in constant need of repair. The section of pipe that burst was more than 100 years old, city officials said.

Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for the city Department of Public Works, said workers replaced the section of 20-inch pipe Wednesday, and utility workers were hooking up and testing the water and electrical lines. The next step would be to clear debris from the roadway and repave the intersection, a process that could be slowed by the rainy weather, officials cautioned.

Commuters who work downtown could expect the area of Lombard and Gay streets to be blocked Thursday, and possibly even through Friday morning, Kocher said. "Just don't plan on using this intersection until the end of the week," Kocher said.

Speaking briefly to reporters after Wednesday's Board of Estimates meeting, Public Works director David Scott said the break "underscores the need for more attention to the infrastructure and more investment in the infrastructures." The recent change in the weather, Scott said, put additional stress on the aging pipes. "When the pipe is old, it is not as structurally sound as it is when it is brand new. What you have when the ground shifts is the pipes split and they break."

Scott said that he expects the pipe to be patched by Thursday, but believes work on the area will go into Friday.

The Board of Estimates, which Scott is a member of, voted to hold a hearing on increasing the city's water rate by 9 percent, a change that will translate into roughly $75 more per year on water bills. That money will be used, in part, for repairs on the pipes.

"As we go forward and ask for a rate increase, it is really to be sure we maintain the system that we have and be more proactive," Scott said. "It is a lot less money to invest in the system early than when it begins to break down."

Baltimore Sun reporter Liz F. Kay contributed to this article.

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