Water main break causes street to collapse

January 22, 2008 8:33:43 PM PST
Streets are closed and businesses are shuttered after a water main break left a huge crater in a North Side street. City crews planned to work all night to repair water and sewer lines at Montrose and Wolcott.

A 36-inch water pipe failed early Tuesday morning. Montrose' south sidewalk collapsed and the street gave way leaving an 80-foot hole that compromised a sewer line.

Some residents say they alerted passing motorists until police arrived.

Getting around in the city's Ravenswood neighborhood is a big problem. Several streets will stay closed about a week while crews work to repair the main and the street. This started just after midnight in the 1900-block of West Montrose, at the intersection of Montrose and Wolcott. Water gushed out from the break, and it took about six hours to stop it from flowing. It is going to be a long repair project.

It is still not known what actually caused the break, although the cold temperatures over the past couple of days may have played a part in it. As of right now, the streets are still closed about a block in each direction as the work to repair the break begins.

"Right now we're removing light fixtures, parking meters. We'll actually marking the utilities in the street. We do have a couple of utilities that are live. We'll have those shut down," said John Spatz, Commissioner Department of Water Management.

It flooded the streets around the Montrose Brown Line stop early Tuesday morning, collapsing the pavement and leaving a massive sinkhole in the middle of the street and mountains of sand that must now be removed.

"What you have is sandy soil underneath many parts of the city, including this. When you have that much water that's coming out of a water main, it's going to turn up the sand. The sand is going to settle out on the street. That removes the support. That's why you have a street collapse," said Tom LaPorte, Water Department spokesperson.

The water main is what is known as a feeder main that takes water from one station to another. Authorities said that no residential customers were affected by the break.

But a basement apartment on the corner of Wolcott and Montrose filled up with 17 inches of water, according to tenants. Kim Nelson and her roommates, one on crutches, got themselves out and saved what they could from the icy, murky water.

But the surrounding businesses weren't so lucky. The Beans and Bagels coffee shop is just feet from the sinkhole. They were unable to open for business, but that is the least of their problems.

"The whole basement is floating right now. The ice machine is floating. The freezers are floating. All of our paper products and all our office is floating," said Will Goodwin, Beans and Bagels.

Early morning commuters were also affected, because although there was no structural damage to the el stop, trains bypassed the station and buses were rerouted temporarily.

Train traffic is back to normal with many commuters stopping to gawk at the scene.

"It's mind-boggling, yes, it really is," said Alex Tobin, neighborhood resident. "It's almost like a mini earthquake hit us or something."

The damage is severe enough that it will likely take several days before the main can be fully repaired.

"What we have to do is cut out a section of pipe, and then put a new section of pipe in place, and then the street may have to be redesigned," said LaPorte.

How long a water main will last before it breaks varies greatly. It can go from 100 to 200 years. This particular water main was said to be close to 100 years old.

Last time a water main this large broke was a few months ago at 67th and Cottage Grove. That caused quite a bit of damage as well.

Something the city wanted to tell people: because of the repair and cleanup work, they are having to tow a lot of the vehicles that are parked in the area around Montrose and Wolcott, even going all the way up to Lincoln. So anybody who has their vehicle towed can go to Montrose Harbor and pick it up there.