Baltimore City

Water main breaks disrupt evening commutes, morning routines

Matt Bloedorn was resigned Tuesday to a commute from Fells Point that would take twice as long as usual, maybe more, as the city dealt with continued flare-ups in its underground water system.

Bloedorn, a civil engineer who lives in Catonsville, said he wasn't surprised, given the region's aging — and sometimes unreliable — infrastructure.

"It's inevitable," Bloedorn said. "The water system is over 100 years old."

The latest water main breaks on Light Street near East Lombard Monday evening and on Fleet Street between South Caroline and South Bond streets early Tuesday hung up traffic, forced some businesses to close early as water was cut off and others to shut down as extensive repairs got under way.

Niaz Mohammad, assistant manager at the 7-Eleven at 22 Light St., said the store would lose $4,000 to $5,000 in sales each day it stays closed. Employees also lost hours.

"Morning time, there's a long line here," he said. "Everybody needs coffee and doughnuts."

Across the street, Dunkin' Donuts was doing fine, with plenty of foot traffic, including workers who had come to repair the water main.

Rosalind Thompson, who lives in the Hanover Square apartments in Otterbein, said the outage, which also hit Royal Farms, a regular morning stop, sent her looking for a java fix.

"I'm upset," Thompson said. "You look forward to it, seeing certain people at 7 a.m. Guess I'll have to get my coffee somewhere else."

Jennifer Jones strolled down the sidewalk in Fells Point during her lunch break, beside the stream of water that flowed on Fleet Street and snaked down South Caroline.

Jones, an executive assistant in Harbor East, said the traffic detours and loss of water are a headache for workers and residents.

"It'd be nice if they put some money into preparing for the future," Jones said. "There's got to be a delicate balance for everything, but infrastructure has to be at the top of the list."

The city has improved its water system piece by piece over the years. But in places, the pipes, made of cast iron, are a century old — and breaks have been a problem for decades.

The Baltimore Sun reported in November 1950 that a 40-inch, high-pressure water main broke near South Charles and Lombard streets, causing water to cascade through downtown.

Nurses at what was then South Baltimore General Hospital were preparing for an emergency operation when they discovered they were without water "and at the last minute, surgeons had to use emergency reserves to scrub."

In January 1980, a ruptured water main at Light Street and East Lombard snarled traffic for days, and repairs caused businesses to close and government workers to shift to other offices.

On Tuesday, officials who arrived at 7 E. Redwood St. were directed to City Hall for a Fire & Police Employees' Retirement System board meeting. A sign at the entrance of the 21-story office building read, "This Building Is Closed Until Further Notice."

Callers to America Works, a workforce development firm on the fifth floor that works to create and find jobs for poor people, were directed to a message that informed them the office was closed and advised them to call back for updates.

Tenants said the buildings at 22 Light St. and at the former Burke's restaurant on the same block had water in the basement from the pipe break.

Nearby, Mary Schuldt of Baltimore Highlands, an administrative assistant at M&T; Bank, said she braved the traffic Tuesday after being caught in the evening rush-hour jam Monday.

"You should have seen the water." Schuldt said. "It was just like a wave. I was caught right when it started."

Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.