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Failing Pipes Cause Dangerous Cave-Ins

The Augusta Chronicle 7/2/2003

A hole in the middle of New Savannah Road, which opened almost two weeks ago, blocks truck routes for industrial companies to and from Gordon Highway in south Augusta.

ANDREW DAVIS TUCKER/STAFF


Failing pipes cause dangerous cave-ins

Web posted Tuesday, July 1, 2003

By Preston Sparks | Staff Writer

In Augusta, it's not the sky that's falling. It's the roads.



Unlike in the Chicken Little tale, though, there really is a cause for concern, officials say.

"They're starting to become somewhat problematic," said Teresa Smith, the director of Augusta Public Works, referring to a high number of road cave-ins occurring lately in Augusta.

In the past three months, Ms. Smith said, her department has had to repair 30 road cave-ins. Some have been dangerously deep and in the middle of major roads. Others were in parking lots at apartments and businesses.

The problem is beginning to crop up more and more as the city's old corrugated metal drainage pipes rust, causing drainage changes that make the ground below pavement unstable. It eventually hollows out and collapses.

The decay is becoming a concern in other cities, too. According to the Water Infrastructure Network - a national group of lawmakers, water providers and engineers - between $300 billion and $500 billion will be needed in the next 20 years to fix or replace city pipes nationwide.

Ms. Smith said that her department has to operate under a pinched budget but that she is now banking on a possible cure for at least part of what lies beneath Augusta's streets: a device that blows up inside a pipe, conforming to its shape and releasing a chemical that hardens like plastic.

"If it's not cost-prohibitive, I'm hoping we'll be able to use it in a number of places," she said.

Still, that fix won't help if an entire pipe system has become so damaged by rust that it needs to be dug up and replaced. One location where an underground storm drainage system might need to be replaced is Woodcrest Apartments, Ms. Smith said. Drainage pipes there, she said, have become so rusty that several of the complex's parking spaces already have begun to cave in.

Ms. Smith said workers could repair the parking lot cave-in before summer's end. The work could cost as much as $200,000.

Another recent cave-in, on New Savannah Road, has caused a 4-foot-deep, 4-foot-wide hole in the middle of the road at the entrance of Shapiro Packing Co. Inc. The road was closed, but officials say they'll start repairs in three to five weeks.

Dennis Stroud, of Augusta Public Works, said nothing was done about the hole immediately because a new sewer line had been planned, which would have involved removing the road. The sewer improvement, however, won't take place for another year now, he said, so his department is preparing to fix the cave-in, which he said occurred about three weeks ago.

On Monday, Amelia Gilchrist and George Williams fished at a pond along New Savannah Road, just yards from the cave-in. Before the road was closed, they said, they used it as a quick access route to Gordon Highway. Now, they drive about a quarter-mile farther to get to Gordon Highway. Ms. Gilchrist said a quick fix is needed.

"That right there, a drunk person could come driving through and run right into that," she said, motioning to concrete barricades in the middle of the road.

Because of the road closing, large trucks delivering to Shapiro have to take a longer route back to Gordon Highway.

A cave-in at a commercial parking lot off Walton Way Extension near Davis Road also has created tensions. Ms. Smith said the property owner has been upset with the city because city pipes caused the cave-in.

"We're trying to come up with some solution to his problem," she said.

Teresa Smith: The director of Augusta Public Works said her department has repaired more than 30 concrete collapses in the past three months.

SPECIAL

Mr. Stroud said the headache is only going to get worse as the city's pipes get older.

"Certainly, if we can get the opportunity to take metal out and put plastic in, that's the way to go," he said.

Metal pipes aren't the only problem, though. Terracotta pipes, made of red clay, remain in some areas of Augusta and also are deteriorating.

"Again, it was put in long before the city experienced this type of growth," Mr. Stroud said. "Now, that stuff is just starting to fail. "

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904 or preston. sparks@augustachronicle. com.


--From the Wednesday, July 2, 2003 printed edition of the Augusta Chronicle

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