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Progress on Howard Street hole reported, but travel relief days away at earliest

Posted at 12:14 PM, Jul 17, 2019

BALTIMORE — After saying they hoped to reopen traffic lanes on currently closed sections of Howard and Pratt Streets by the end of next week, the Department of Public Works enumerated the scale of repairs, the work already accomplished, and the priorities left to tackle in the on going infrastructure ordeal in a release Wednesday.

As the city tried to assess flooding near M&T Bank Stadium and the CSX tracks on July 8, eventually determining the source was a water main break on Howard Street near the intersection with Pratt Street. Further investigation of that break revealed a sinkhole forming under the road. Contractors immediately mobilized to address the issue. A Department of Transportation employee working on a buried conduit box at the site had to be rushed to Maryland Shock Trauma after being seriously injured when the structure he was working on partially collapsed.

DPW workers closed portions of Howard and Pratt Street, erecting fencing to keep people away from the work site and diverting traffic. By July 9, controlled demolitions began and a concrete slab was moved to cover the hole. When reporters returned to the scene on July 10, it appeared a portion of the sidewalk and elevated platform of the Convention Center/Pratt Street Light Rail station had collapsed into the roadway.

Commuters dealt with frustrating delays navigating downtown. The Light Rail remains closed between through much of downtown, with trains not heading any further south than North Avenue or any further north than the Camden Station. A bus bridge is connecting commuters to the stops in between, but city officials don’t expect the Light Rail to return to full service for weeks. With impending heavy rains forecast for July 11, crews were trying to fill the voids temporarily and build diversions for storm water as a 12-inch storm water main was found damaged under the street.

The collapse affected the rail tunnel that runs underneath Howard Street and is used by the freight company CSX as well as other regional rail companies. DPW said CSX was working with them to test are repair infrastructure at or near the site. By July 10, CSX said it had inspected the tracks and was beginning limited traffic through the Howard Street Tunnel in the hopes of restoring full train traffic as soon as possible. By July 14, a contractor had removed 20 truckloads of concrete and debris from the site, DPW said.

At this point in the project, a contractor is preparing to stabilize the hole between the above-ground Light Rail tracks and the below ground CSX tracks, DPW said. A protective shoring system will be added to ensure worker safety during excavation and repair work underground.

The project is made that much more challenging because of the confluence of integral infrastructure systems all situated underneath these stretch of roads. Pipes for storm water, sewer water and drinking water are buried near conduits for other utility systems, DPW said, meaning work is slow and careful, and several agencies must coordinate in the repairs.

“This is a very difficult job that has to be designed and built in real time, keeping safety at the forefront of all work activities. We have to make necessary adjustments as the project progresses,” said DPW Director Rudolph S. Chow. ”All the stakeholders have literally been in the same room every day since the sinkhole was discovered on July 8, and everyone has contributed to the solution.”

Headaches are expected to continue for Downtown motoristsas the Baltimore calendar gets busy. Heavy traffic is expected downtown Wednesday, the DOT said.

The on-going road closures, coupled with the Orioles home game, means heavy traffic volume is projected between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Commuters are encouraged to use public transportation to avoid the delays and lessen street congestion.

As travel lanes are not expected to open until next week, and Light Rail service still limited, delays and challenges may also be expected for those attempting to attend Artscape this weekend, bringing with it its own road closures in the Mount Vernon, Midtown Belvidere, and Charles North neighborhoods.