Water main bursts in downtown D.C., disrupting traffic

The 20-inch water main break disrupting traffic near 17th and P streets NW occurred after a contractor began working on a streetscape project in the area. The District's Department of Transportation is advising drivers to stay away from the area for the rest of the day.
By McLean Bennett Special to the Washington Post
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Traffic was disrupted and at least one District restaurant had to close temporarily Monday after a large water main ruptured, sending water gushing through a heavily traveled downtown intersection.

The rupture occurred about 10 a.m. at 17th and P streets NW after workers contracted by the D.C. Department of Transportation for a construction project lifted up a concrete catch basin at the intersection's northwest corner. They apparently ruptured a 20-inch underground pipe dating to the late 1800s, city officials said.

"If you're pulling a catch basin, it can hit the pipe, and if the pipe is older and cold, it's more likely that it's brittle and can crack," said George Hawkins, general manager of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority.

By Monday afternoon, workers had reduced the pressure in the ruptured pipe enough to begin making repairs, WASA spokesman Alan Heymann said.

For several hours, traffic was closed along 17th Street from Q to O streets and on P Street between 16th and 18th streets. All roads were reopened by 3 p.m., DDOT spokeswoman Karyn Le Blanc said.

Hawkins said the broken pipe did not directly supply water to customers but fed into smaller pipes that went to nearby homes and businesses.

"It's a big line," Hawkins said. He said he couldn't determine the effect to nearby water customers.

The Sushi Taro restaurant, in the 1500 block of 17th Street NW and within sight of the broken pipe, had to cancel lunch reservations Monday after it lost water about 11 a.m., a half-hour before it was to open.

"We are losing business," said the restaurant's owner, Nobu Yamazaki. He said that if the restaurant had remained closed through dinner, he could have lost up to $8,000 for the day.

Jin Yamazaki, Nobu's brother and manager of the restaurant, said water began running at Sushi Taro about 2 p.m.

Heymann said that he was not aware of anybody in the area being out of water as of about 3:30 p.m. and that workers had begun repairing the pipe by then.

Hawkins said that flooding to nearby buildings had probably been minimized.

DDOT Director Gabe Klein said the department would look to see whether the accident was avoidable. "But a lot of times with aging infrastructure, it's challenging," he said.

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