Water main break causes Washington St. to buckle

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A water main break on West Washington Street near Holt Road caused the roadway to buckle Wednesday morning, causing delays for drivers on the west side.

Citizens Energy Group, who has handled the city’s water and pipelines since 2011, says all west bound lanes were closed and two-way traffic was diverted to the east bound lanes while crews made the repair. The valves were turned back on around 3 p.m. and crews opened one west bound lane for rush hour traffic. Citizens representatives expect all lanes to be open for Thursday morning’s commute.

“Slower the past couple of days, definitely. Today was the worst by far though,” said Kristina Rahn a downtown commuter. She didn’t pass the Washington Street detour, but has noticed more and more water main breaks in the area.

“In the wintertime during those coldest months, the ground gets really hard and the water gets heavier and that puts pressure on the system,” explained Laura O’Brien, corporate communications manager for Citizens Energy Group.

She says other than the weather, she knows exactly where the problems with water mains are coming from.

“They’re mostly due to our aging infrastructure. Much of our system is around 50 years old. Some of it is even a little closer to 100 years old,” said O’Brien. “During 1945 to 1960 the steel manufacturers were manufacturing lower grade steel during that time so a lot of the water main breaks we’re seeing are from mains that were installed from that 1945 to 1960 period.”

In fact she says the main that broke this morning was installed in 1947. According to Citizens’ data, Indianapolis sees 500 water main breaks a year. O’Brien says that’s a decrease from the 700 seen in 2011.

“We have been in the past six years investing $280 million in our water distribution system,” said O’Brien. ” We are investing every single year and we are focusing on those water mains that have the highest failure rates so hopefully we can take care of those problems and reduce the issues like we had this morning.”

Water main breaks are separate from the Indianapolis Department of Public Works. Betsy Whitmore, chief communications officer at DPW, says they direct traffic around water main breaks but are focused on road construction and repair. She says DPW currently has $58 million going into infrastructure improvements for roadways and storm trains this year, and expect to have more next year with increased state gas and wheel taxes.