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Two more water main breaks and a power outage

Monday mornings are often a bit rough, and this week in particular, Baltimore infrastructure was off to a pretty bumpy start.

Water swirls from the failure of a 30-inch pipe on the 200 block of Madison Street Monday morning. Several streets were closed for a time, including Madison, Fallsway and Guilford Avenue.

Just a few days after the so–called “Charles River” had receded, and crews had repaired the major water main break at East 20th and North Charles streets, another large pipe burst Monday on East Madison Street.

Water starting gushing at about 8 a.m. from a 30-inch pipe on the 200 block of Madison, near Guilford Avenue. Crews worked throughout the day to curb the flow and begin the repair process, but Department of Public Works spokesman Kurt Kocher said he couldn’t predict when they would finish.

“Right now, we’re just digging,” Kocher said. “We have to get down there and see what we’ve got, if there’s anything else damaged under there.”

As with last week’s incident, the streets were heavily flooded, dismayed business owners worried about slumped sales and traffic was again snarled. Several streets were closed for at least a period of the morning, including Madison, Fallsway, Guilford and a ramp leading to Guilford from the Jones Falls Expressway.

It didn’t seem to be as severe, though, as last week’s incident involving a 60-inch main break, which caused the street to buckle from pressure below the surface and forced crews to work throughout the next day. Traffic wasn’t as heavy, because the Veteran’s Day holiday kept many people home from work.

The Madison Street break is the fourth major disruption to the city’s water system since July, and it wasn’t the only one to hit the Greater Baltimore area on Monday.

A 16-inch main on Philadelphia Road at Rossville Boulevard burst at 12:30 p.m. and affected about 60 homes and 15 businesses, Kocher said. There were reports of low water pressure at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center and the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, which cancelled classes for the day.

Crews have been working on the line, and at about 5 p.m., Kocher said those institutions should have water and be “good to go.”

The breaks illustrate the need to overhaul the city’s aging water distribution infrastructure, which officials said is to blame for the recent incidents.

The goal, Kocher said, is to expedite upgrades to the pipe system, because the city only completes “a handful” of line replacements each year. Officials are now aiming to replace 20 miles worth of pipe within the first year of this program, and to increase that amount by five miles each year for the next five years.

There’s no specific date set for this program to begin, he said, but the city hopes to achieve and sustain a pace of 40 miles worth of upgrades each year.

“We’re looking by end of 2013 to be close, but maybe not quite at, that first 20 miles,” Kocher said. “It takes a while to gear up.”

In addition, though likely unrelated to the water main breaks, South Baltimore residents experienced brief, unexplained power outages Monday morning that residents and business owners said caused more worry and inconvenience than actual harm.

BGE spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said 1,400 customers in the area lost power, and although she said she couldn’t pinpoint the exact boundaries of the outage, residents on South Charles, Hanover and Light streets reported being without power for at least an hour.

Lights went off at about 11:30 a.m., but came back on in seemingly random fashion for different streets and on different sides of the road. That’s not uncommon, BGE officials said, because of how the grid is structured.

Several business owners in the affected service area said they were relieved the outages were so short-lived. Once electricity came back on, some seemed to shrug off the temporary outage as a blip in their morning routine.

Just before noon on Monday, Haluk Kantar, who owns HomeSlyce Pizza Bar, said the Light Street restaurant was still without power. Luckily, he said, that location doesn’t open for lunch on Monday.

“I am hoping that when we open at 3 o’ clock [at the Light Street location], power will be back on,” he said. “If it’s not, then we’re going to ship all operations to the Charles Street locations. We deliver from Charles all the way to Federal Hill, so when these things happen, we do our delivery business; we just can’t do our carryout and in-house business.”

Others who didn’t have a backup plan like Kantar’s and who spoke while power was still out, seemed noticeably more concerned.

Lights came back on around on at Sam’s Barber Shop on Fort Avenue sometime between 12 and 12:30 p.m., said owner Sam Voltolina. His electric razors and hair dryers were plugged in and ready to go, but he feared they might not be, he said.

“When it shut off, I thought that maybe I’d shut down [the shop],” Voltolina said. “I wasn’t going to hang around and wait for the lights to come back on.

“And look, across the street, they’re still out,” he continued, pointing toward Light Street, where some storefronts appeared dark.

Last week, there were concerns that some BGE customers might lose power — a handful did — because a gas line ran underneath Charles Street, where the pipe had burst. The utility company might have needed to turn off the line if it was at risk because of the water main repairs. But that likely wasn’t the case Monday, officials said.

The power outages occurred several hours after the water main broke on Madison, and city officials said they hadn’t heard that BGE was concerned about disruptions. Utility lines were not directly below the broken pipe, said Art Shapiro, division chief of water and wastewater in the DPW.