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New water main break floods at Madison Street beneath I-83

Above: A waterfall along Guilford Avenue formed after a main transmission pipe burst under East Madison Street in 2012. (Mark Reutter)

In the wake of last week’s water main rupture on Charles Street, Baltimore sprang a new leak this morning.

A 30-inch underground pipe collapsed on the 200 block of East Madison Street, spewing streams of water into the Jones Falls Valley beneath I-83 and forming a shallow lake on Fallsway from the edge of the Maryland Penitentiary to the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg homeless shelter.

(UPDATE: 6 p.m. Nov. 13 – The water main has been repaired and service is expected to be restored later tonight, says a DPW spokeswoman.)

The break – the latest of four major utility collapses since July (there have been hundreds of small breaks in the city system over the last four months) – underscores the city’s aging and fragile infrastructure.

Fixing the pipes and tunnels after they have shattered isn’t cheap, with $7 million the most recent price tag for a collapsed storm-drain tunnel in East Baltimore, The Brew has found.

Like last Wednesday’s break on Charles Street, today’s incident was not a result of inclement weather, but a reflection of the deterioration of the city’s mostly-century-old water, sewer and storm-drain tunnels that course under city streets for hundreds of miles.

Streets Closed, Traffic Light on Holiday

Madison, Fallsway, Guilford Avenue and the Guilford off-ramp of I-83 were closed as a result of the break at about 8 this morning, according to Bureau of Water spokesman Kurt Kocher.

View of Madison Street from underneath I-83. The escaping water turned south and backed up in a shallow, block-long lake on Fallsway. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

View of Madison Street from underneath I-83. The escaping water turned south and backed up in a shallow, block-long lake on Fallsway. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

The collapse buckled the pavement alongside the State Highway Administration building on Madison Street, sending small geysers of water from a dozen cracks and flooding the parking lot of a shopping center on Guilford Avenue.

The break had approximately half the force of last week’s cascade of water that spewed from a 60-inch water main that fractured 15 blocks away, beneath Charles and 20th streets.

Owing to today’s government holiday (Veterans’ Day), the water break apparently caused little immediate disruption to SHA’s closed operations. Morning traffic throughout the area was light.

Warning on Water Quality

About 19 residences and one business in the 800 block of North Calvert Street were without water. Other parts of Mt. Vernon experienced low water pressure. Kocher said he could not predict how long it would take the city to shut off the water.

(UPDATE: In an email to the media this afternoon, Kocher warned: “Some cloudiness may also be experienced, and residents and businesses experiencing that in this vicinity should not run or use the water at this time.”)

This is the fourth major disruption of the city’s utility system since July.

A water main broke downtown, causing the closing of two blocks of busy Light Street for two months, while a collapsed storm-drain tunnel formed a major sinkhole near Johns Hopkins Hospital. The 2300 block of East Monument Street remains closed.

Then came the big flood on Charles Street last Wednesday morning, which took 36 hours to stop.

A crowd waiting for food this morning at Our Daily Bread soup kitchen on Fallsway look at water lapping up beside the building. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

A crowd at Our Daily Bread on Fallsway watch the water rising this morning beside the soup kitchen. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

As the water backed up on Fallsway this morning, a crowd of people watched from the handicap ramp of Our Daily Bread.

“This city is falling apart,” shouted one elderly man waiting on line, as others shook their heads in agreement. “It’s the infrastructure,” echoed a younger man knowingly. “This country got to fix its infrastructure, now, now!

Fifteen blocks from the Madison Street break, workers this morning clear debris from the broken water main at 20th and Charles street, which is expected to take several weeks to repair. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Fifteen blocks from today’s Madison Street break, workers clear debris from the broken water main at 20th and Charles streets. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

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