Rains Open B-W Parkway Sinkhole

A sinkhole opened this morning on the parkway near Laurel, forcing the closure of part of the northbound side. Officials don't expect to reopen the road until Saturday morning.
A sinkhole opened this morning on the parkway near Laurel, forcing the closure of part of the northbound side. Officials don't expect to reopen the road until Saturday morning.
By Philip Rucker and Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 9, 2005

Heavy rains carved a gaping sinkhole beneath the Baltimore-Washington Parkway yesterday at a U.S. government construction site, forcing authorities to close all northbound lanes at Route 32 near Laurel and delaying many travelers at the outset of the summer weekend.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of the project, rushed yesterday afternoon to excavate loose, sandy soil underlying the roadbed and replace it with recycled concrete to stabilize the road and prevent a cave-in. The sinkhole was visible on the road median and extended underneath the highway across one lane.

U.S. Park Police officials said they were likely to reopen the northbound lanes this morning.

Thousands of motorists who ordinarily rely on the parkway to leave the Washington area were detoured starting shortly before 11 a.m. yesterday, dumping more traffic onto alternate routes. Among those affected were baseball fans en route to Camden Yards to see the Baltimore Orioles play a night game against the first-place Boston Red Sox.

On a typical day, police said, about 97,000 vehicles travel the parkway in both directions between the District and Anne Arundel County. On a Friday evening, traffic leaving the capital surges. Yesterday, alerted by electronic signs and radio traffic reports, many drivers took one of two recommended parallel routes to Baltimore -- Interstate 95 or Route 1.

Elsewhere in the region, the downpour that peaked early yesterday -- remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy -- left many neighborhoods without power and with downed trees and flooded streets.

In Old Town Alexandria, a swollen Potomac River spilled into low-lying streets and forced police to barricade several blocks near the river in a scene familiar to many residents and sandbag-ready businesses.

In Ocean City, portions of the ceiling at City Hall and at a nearby public safety building collapsed under an intense rainfall measured at five inches within four hours.

By early yesterday morning, the National Weather Service reported that 2.44 inches of rain had fallen at Reagan National Airport and 3.11 inches at Dulles International Airport. The weekend forecast called for partly cloudy skies.

In the parkway incident, an unlucky combination of rain and construction undermined the roadbed. Fred Cunningham, who manages a 29-mile stretch of the parkway for the National Park Service, said the Army Corps of Engineers was working to tunnel utility wires beneath the parkway in a project tied to nearby Fort Meade, home of the National Security Agency.

The rain, Cunningham said, washed out a large quantity of soil underneath the left edge of the road. "They must have hit some sand or soft dirt under the parkway," he said. "This is a tremendous sinkhole, definitely caused by the construction. . . . It's a disaster."

Corps spokeswoman Mary Beth Thompson said the $500,000 construction project, linking defense contractors west of the parkway to the fort on the east, was routine. She said the storm hit just when the road was most vulnerable, with most of the soil dug out at both shoulders.

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