A sinkhole update: DPW says some downtown streets could partially reopen by end of next week

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A shot of the sinkhole from July 10. Photo via Council President Brandon Scott/Twitter.

City officials are eyeing the end of next week to begin restoring some, if not total normalcy to downtown traffic patterns recently disrupted by a massive sinkhole outside the convention center.

The Department of Public Works today said “the goal is to make enough progress on the infrastructure work so that normal traffic patterns resume on some lanes of Howard and Pratt streets by the end of next week.”

The hole last week swallowed up part of a light rail stop last Wednesday. It emerged after a water main break in the Howard Street Tunnel caused temporary flooding outside M&T Bank Stadium, and then the collapse of an underground vault while crews were working on repairs.

The light rail system has since been shut down between Camden Yards and North Avenue, with the Maryland Transit Administration offering bus bridges to fill in the gaps for passengers, and roads have remained closed, making driving downtown particularly hellish.

CSX trains operating beneath the area were unable to move at full speed for several days, though service was restored late last week.

Complicating the sinkhole repairs is the utility work that must be performed before it can be filled in, plus the fact that the area is sandwiched between the underground CSX tracks and the light rail tracks above. Crews have installed a “protective shoring system” to make the excavation safer and while they perform repairs underground, including for drinking, sewer and storm water systems, all of which share space with other utilities’ infrastructure.

“We have multiple City and State agencies, teams of contractors, and several private companies working together to solve a complex problem, while also doing as much as possible to keep daily life moving forward,” DPW Director Rudy Chow said in a statement.

Amid the repairs, which are snarling traffic and halting operations for above-ground trains used by many for Orioles games—not to mention Artscape, which is this weekend—crews have demolished an extra concrete slab atop the sinkhole and removed some 20 truckloads of concrete and debris. They also installed protections against stormwater and rain, including bypasses and a temporary asphalt berm, to keep water from seeping in during summer storms.

Chow said all stakeholders, including city and state agencies, CSX, the Orioles, engineering firms and others, have “literally been in the same room every day since the sinkhole was discovered on July 8, and everyone has contributed to the solution.”

The cost of the repairs remains undetermined, DPW said today.

While it’s unclear when the light rail will return to downtown, today’s announcement marks the first prediction for when traffic could be let back onto currently closed sections of Pratt and Howard streets.

Meanwhile, the Orioles are playing their next five games against the Nationals and Red Sox at home from today and through Sunday. Ahead of last weekend’s games, the franchise put out an advisory for fans to allot more time to get to the stadium, which undoubtedly applies to this homestand as well.

The Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts today offered similar advice as the city prepares for thousands of people to visit Midtown for the 38th annual Artscape Festival, happening this Friday through Sunday.

“With traffic and Light Rail modifications during Artscape, we are encouraging festivalgoers to plan their travel before they come to the festival,” BOPA spokesperson Tracy Baskerville said in an email. “They may need to leave home earlier than in years past in order to get to the festival especially if they are trying to see a particular scheduled performance.”

Ethan McLeod
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