Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Sinking Infrastructure of the Westside


The North Sea has a number of tiny islands (Halligs) which get fully inundated in storms except for the wharf on which the main house sits. The house is then surrounded by a roiling sea.
Hallig island in high water (Photo: Creative Commons)

Sometimes I feel like that in my perch on the second floor of what was once UM's Dental School, the oldest dental school in the US and is now my office.

Sometimes it is fire, sometimes water.

Lately it has been water, or more precisely, the effects of water. Sinkholes all around, trenches, ditches, pipes above and below ground. The most notable pipe is the sewage line that now runs in big swoops and dives between Centre Street and Saratoga Streets exhibiting the colon of the city like a colostomy as a piece of art.

Traffic is only an afterthought, the diggers, the backhoes, the sawcutters and the giant vacuums that suck up chunks of concrete as if they were birdseed have taken over: Operation orange cone on steroids. For months.
Once there were three lanes of roadway: Mulberry Street sinkhole
(Photo: ArchPlan. Inc.)

But this flood isn't followed by ebbing water. To the contrary, the more trenches, the more new sections of pipe are buried in the ground, the more seems to go wrong. Whole sections of a street giving way like so much brittle frosting. The sinking ground shears off the life lines of the city buried under the roadway and exposes the ripped and frayed ends like an cut away drawing done by engineers to illustrate infrastructure.

The company with that giant open- ended emergency contract can spring into action at a moment's notice without bidding. It is having another field day. The businesses around all those sinkholes beached like on a Hallig: not so much (BBJ article). All we need to complete the sequestration is another mishap in the nearby Howard Street tunnel.

Maybe we should use the time in quarantine to figure out what the future of the Westside should be. Like the cardinals in Rome, we can signal a result with white smoke.But I doubt the sinkholes will be fixed by then.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Baltimore SUN, Mulberry Street sinkhole
Baltimore SUN, Centre Street sinkhole

Mulberry Sinkhole: just finished trenching it (see on the left edge). The activity level is inverse proportional to the size of the hole. 
 (photo: ArchPlan)

The Cemtre Street sinkhole: Three months in the making and counting  (photo: ArchPlan)

Night shift on Franklin Street  (photo: ArchPlan)

Dayshift on Eutaw Street: More trenching  (photo: ArchPlan)

Temporary covers over building connection trenches  (photo: ArchPlan)
No alley remains un-dug (photo: ArchPlan)

Sewage flowing through the streets (Franklin): Operation Orange cone
 (photo: ArchPlan)