DPW Meets With Mt. Vernon Dwellers, Councilman Costello Over Construction Conflicts

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Courtesy Councilman Eric Costello/Twitter
Courtesy Councilman Eric Costello/Twitter

Last week, DPW personnel met face-to-face with Mt. Vernon residents at a meeting to address growing frustration over ongoing roadwork. The outcome was a clear timeline for when the city expects to finish work on sewers connected to two sinkholes that have caused disruption in the historic neighborhood.

The department set the meeting up after Councilman Eric Costello, who represents the neighborhood, wrote them a critical letter last month. He wasn’t getting on the department simply for carrying out construction, but rather because he said communications about roadwork “have lacked timeliness and consistency.”

DPW spokesman Jeff Raymond responded with a message conveying an understanding of residents’ frustrations, and said they would set up a meeting. Last Thursday, that’s exactly what transpired, with Costello and residents joining DPW engineers and other staff to go over the schedule for ongoing projects.

A timeline laid out by the department shows they have their sights on finishing all work connected to sinkholes in the historic neighborhood by mid-February.

Raymond said today that a large part of the repairs involves removing blockage from the pipes beneath the roads and re-lining them to prevent future backups. “You have to clean the sewer before you can do anything else with it,” Raymond said.

Now, the pipes that need fixing aren’t made like anything you have (or should have, anyway) in your house. “The pipe that’s there now is brick-and-mortar. If you have a century of sewage going through there, you can only imagine what it does to that material,” Raymond said.

So what they’re doing now, both to reduce blockage that leads to sinkholes and for a general overhaul of the city’s sewer infrastructure, is cleaning those pipes and, once they’re dry, re-lining them with new cured-in-place piping (CIPP). Raymond the new pipe is “hard, clean, and we can count on it for many years to come.”

Here are abbreviated timelines of the repair work for both areas:

Mulberry Street sinkhole

Photo courtesy Baltimore DPW
Courtesy DPW
  • Since this precarious sinkhole opened up last summer, DPW has already bypassed the area and had a crane remove the concrete from down inside this past
    September and October.
  • They recently finished cleaning and re-lining a stretch of sewer along W. Saratoga Street northwest of Lexington market (Nov. 14-18).
  • They’ll be doing the same type of re-lining work on a one-block area from Saratoga Street to Mulberry Street from Dec. 5-11 and another section extending to Park Avenue from Dec. 12-19.
  • They’ll then start reopening lanes of the currently closed section of W. Saratoga Street during the week before Christmas, start Dec. 19.
  • Workers will fill in the trench and perform other restoration work from Dec. 20-Jan. 13. DPW is eyeing a reopening of the seven or so closed blocks by Jan. 14.

Cathedral Street sinkhole

Courtesy DPW
Courtesy DPW
  • At this sinkhole that appeared just last month, since Oct. 28, DPW has been bypassing a sewer along Cathedral Street from E. Madison Street to W. Mt. Vernon Place, drilling and digging an access point for pipe-cleaning equipment.
  • Once they’re finished late this month, they’ll be cleaning the pipe (just one, rather than two sections as at Mulberry Street) through Dec. 31 and re-lining it for several weeks in January.
  • They’ll need to restore the road from Jan. 21-Feb. 15, and are targeting Feb. 16 as the reopening date of that section of Cathedral Street.

Councilman Costello was said the meeting went “pretty well,” but noted that many constituents are still not happy, “for good reason.”

“People are frustrated. There’s been an inordinate amount of utility work along with infrastructure failures and installation of the cycle track,”he said. “It’s created a lot of quality-of-life issues, so people are frustrated and they want it to be over as soon as humanly possible.”

Costello said he’s also planning to meet with the head of DPW and BGE after Thanksgiving to discuss how work can be coordinated so that “streets are only being unzipped once.”

“What I’m looking for specifically is better communication from city agencies,” he said.

Raymond, for his part, said the department felt the gathering was an important event establishing a point of connection between residents and the city. “We just want to make sure the public knows that we take this seriously,” he said.

Mt. Vernon residents should know the department feels bad anytime there’s disruptive construction, Raymond said.

For now, residents will need to deal with the road closures, and may see surprise interruptions again. But after last Thursday, DPW has given them a clearer idea of when all the sinkhole-related work should be finished.

“This is a part of the town that deserves all the vibrancy that we can provide for it,” Raymond said. “Right now we’re in the middle of a lot of work, but that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.”

Ethan McLeod
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