Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The eternal Baltimore sinkholes

The ground gave way on July 5. On August the 19th the hole that consumed all lanes of Mulberry Street still looks the same and there is no apparent sign of work. With school vacations coming to an end, traffic  will be a nightmare for all modes with high volume three lane Route 40 eastbound traffic rerouted to Saratoga Street with only one lane next to busy bus stops.
The Mulberry Street sinkhole the morning after

What happened? Water, sewer and all the underground conduits had been severed or compromised. The biggest problem: Sewer. An elaborate sewer detour involving dual above ground black plastic sewer pipes was conceived and relatively swiftly installed, including all the places where it cuts off pedestrians or driveways into parking lots or alleys. But to this day the sewer detour has not been activated and without it, the sinkhole won't be repaired.

That's right, more than 1.5 months after the hole formed, contractor's and engineers have still not figured out how to run the two-pipe sewer detour under the tracks on Howard Street and above the CSX tunnel underneath. (an update for the solution finally envisioned is placed underneath this article)

As the New York Times explains in a great article last weekend,  big cities don't always know where there stuff is buried, in part, because there are so many conflicts that things aren't always exactly where the plans show them to be. As a result, there is a lot of detective work necessary before any serious digging can begin. "Peek and shriek" is what the New York Times says contractors call this.
Maybe not surprising to some, Germans have widely
used system of marking the coordinates of water, gas,
right on site with markings on poles or attached to
On Howard Street at Franklin two times test pits were opened and covered again, yet the sewer detour pipes still sit unconnected. Spinniello, the private contractor, on-call for the Centre Street and Mulberry Street sinkholes, undertook training by CSX to be allowed to dig above the railroad tunnel, MTA was consulted, but the pipes remain disconnected.
the Center Street sinkhole some five months after it happened
(photo: ArchPlan Inc)

Meanwhile and related to the sewer disconnects on the Westside, major amounts of raw sewage are directed into the stormwater system and into the Bay every time it rains hard. (At the tune of 48,000 gallons per one occurrence and 200,000 gallons at another per DPW reports).
The Baltimore City Department of Public Works estimates that over 200,000 gallons of rainwater, mixed with sewer water, overflowed last night and early this morning at West Saratoga Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. The site of this release is where bypass operations are occurring, related to the July 4 sewer collapse on nearby Mulberry Street. That sewer, which is almost seven feet in diameter, remains closed, necessitating bypassing it with temporary lines. The overflow entered the storm drains which lead to the harbor.
Of course, the matter of failing infrastructure is not limited to the two prominent failures on the Westside. Acting under a consent decree the City is in a decades long effort to catch up with deferred maintenance. So far DPW did not live up to the set deadlines.

It is hard to tell where complexity ends and incompetence begins. From the perspective of those whose businesses are cut off, whose trip to work takes 10 minutes longer, whether they use a car or a bus, and those who live in the area and can hardly get out their door, there is an urgency to all of this that one can somehow not detect from the repair preparations and proceedings. When will this be treated like the emergency it really is?

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

update 8/24/16:: In what is the final strike regarding the Howard Street crossing, Spinniello has closed all of Franklin Street on Wednesday during rush hour, diverting traffic onto Monument and Madison Streets, each single lane. A big dig is imminent but not for the pipes but for a hole to set a boring machine west of the tracks that will drill two 24" "tunnels" under the light rail tracks. Once the tunnel boring machine has arrived on the east side of Franklin, another big hole has to be dug to lift it out again. Both of those excavations are "cut and cover" and need steel pilings to shore up the sides. So the street closure is for a drilling rig to be put into position for the pilings. Then excavation, then placing the boring machine, then boring and then placing the pipes and hooking them up. estimated time for all that two months. Meanwhile all the sewage from the disrupted sewage line at the Mulberry Street sinkhole will continue to flow wherever. It is hard to shed the feeling that the 3-4 months it took to find and install a workable detour for the disrupted sewage would have been better spent in getting the actual pipe reconnected with the sewage simply pumped away from the work area. 

Related articles on this blog
The Sinking Infrastructure of the Westside
Are Contractors cheating the City?

A picture gallery of above ground sewer diversion:

Franklin Street, once a traffic sewer is now a sewer sewer (photo: ArchPlan Inc)

Regular repairs have occurred in the area since last year. Did they contribute to the sinkholes?
(photo: ArchPlan Inc)

with double pipes on both sides pedestrians have a difficult time at intersections
(photo: ArchPlan Inc)

Barrels, ramps and pipes, the new Westside esthetics (photo: ArchPlan Inc)

New businesses at 520 Park struggling to get a foothold in the new normal
(photo: ArchPlan Inc)

The Howard Street light rail tracks over the CSX tunnel seem to be an insurmountable obstacle.
Pipes remain disconnected here (photo: ArchPlan Inc)

The sinkhole at Mulberry  remains unchanged after some initial clean-up (photo: ArchPlan Inc)

 An idealized diagram of the city utility layer cake. Minus the pedestrian underpass, this is about
the situation above Howard Street with additional tracks on top. Graphic NYT

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