BALTIMORE — The Light Rail could be out for weeks and traffic in Downtown Baltimore remains impacted as portions of Howard and Pratt Streets stay closed following a water main break that contributed to a road collapse Monday.
At around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, crews from the freight shipment company CSX removed their final locomotive that had been stuck in a tunnel under the street, said David McMillan, a spokesman for the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management. CSX operates a train tunnel that runs underneath Howard Street and is used by the majority of the train traffic on the East Coast. After removing the locomotive, CSX worked with city crews to test the integrity of the tunnel, and McMillan said CSX would begin performing test runs to see if the tunnel is safe and passable this morning.
Overnight, the accessibility ramp to the Camden Light Rail station collapsed, leaving a noticeable hole. McMillian said a Maryland Transit Administration pole and a traffic pole used by the Baltimore City Department of Transportation fell into the hole. Those were scheduled to be removed this morning, and from there contractors will continue to fill the chasm to return structural integrity.
Update on Howard/Pratt streets:— Megan Knight (@KnightWMAR) July 10, 2019
*No timeline on when roads will reopen
*Collapse of handicap ramp on Pratt happened after midnight
*Crews working to replace lights/fill massive hole on Pratt
*No word on condition of DOT worker hurt when the vault collapsed Mon.@WMAR2News pic.twitter.com/VCvYFladHx
Currently, Howard Street remains closed between Camden and Lombard Streets, and Pratt Street remains closed between Sharp and Paca Streets. Neighboring portions of Eutaw and Paca Street are also affected by the break. Drivers entering the city from I-395 North are being diverted onto Conway Street and cannot travel onto Howard, and drivers trying to get to I-395 South are advised to take Light Street to Conway Street.
The Light Rail is not operating north of the Camden Station nor south of the North Avenue Station due to the issues along Howard Street. MTA is providing a bus bridge between the stops. Though Howard Street is open north of Lombard, Light Rail trains can’t access the stations south of North Avenue because the trains can’t single-track along Howard Street, said Veronica Battisti, a spokesperson for the MTA.
“I think the Light Rail is going to be the longest effected out of everything,” McMillan said in addressing the litany of issues plaguing the intersection and surrounding area. “We have to have this entire surface basically addressed in terms of the fill and getting this resurfaced, but I think this is going to be a multi-week outage.”
The deteriorating situation began Monday afternoon when a water main break closed a portion of Howard Street. Shortly thereafter, a DOT employee performing work on one of the underground vaults at Pratt and Howard Streets was sent to Maryland Shock Trauma when the vault collapsed, causing the employee to fall. As of Wednesday morning, officials did not have an update on the employee’s condition.
A priority for Thursday is to create a bypass to divert potential flood waters away from the street as rain is in the forecast for Thursday.
According to Jeffrey Raymond, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works, the repair work is made more complicated by the density of vital infrastructure in the area. Not only are Howard and Pratt Streets major traffic thoroughfares, but the presence of the Light Rail above ground, the CSX tunnel underneath, and a maze of sewers, water mains, drainage, and electrical infrastructure below further complicates work.
“It’s just a reminder of everything that’s going on at this intersection,” said Raymond. “It doesn’t necessarily look like it, it looks like two roads intersecting, but underneath its a very complex scene with water mains, sewer mains, storm mains that all have to be addressed.”
Officials say that workers continue to work throughout to fix the congestion.
"The stormwater bypass is going to be installed overnight so that we're ready for the morning," said Raymond. "Every night we've had people working overnight to get work done literally around the clock."
CSX crews have been working to remove debris and clean the area all day. CSX also released a statement on the water main break, stating that they have inspected tthe tracks and continued movement with limited traffic at a lower pace. Their full statement can be read below.
“CSX is working collaboratively with the City of Baltimore in response to the water main break in downtown near Howard and Pratt Streets that temporarily disrupted freight rail service. Company officials worked extensively with the Department of Public Works and Baltimore Emergency Management overnight as they began restoration work. CSX engineering crews completed track inspections and visual survey assessments in the tunnel to ensure safe rail operations. Currently, CSX is moving limited traffic through the Howard Street Tunnel and are working to restore normal train operations as soon as possible.”
At this time, all roads are expected to be closed on Thursday.