Sinkhole in Hampden a sign of aging infrastructure

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Crews work in a sinkhole on the corner of 37th Street and Keswick Road in Hampden on July 25.

Hampden has a sinkhole and it's a doozy — 25 feet down to the aging storm-drain infrastructure underneath Keswick Road at 37th Street.

A Baltimore City emergency contract crew has been working since the last week of June to fix what Kurt Kocher, a Department of Public Works spokesman called "an explainable hole," caused by storm-drain damage and erosion.


Traffic is being redirected during the construction, except for local traffic on a mostly residential block.

Also known as a sinking, the hole began as a depression of 4 to 5 feet, at the south end of the Johns Hopkins at Keswick complex, just north of a Royal Farms store and two blocks from The Avenue.


Crews are working from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, to dig down to the box culvert at the bottom that channels storm water, Kocher and construction workers said. It's slow going, said workers, because the arm of an excavator can only reach down so far, and much of the digging is done by hand.

The city is also concerned about a water main and a gas main nearby, "which makes it even more complicated" to fix the sinkhole, Kocher said. "Not only do you have to get down there, but you have to work around all those other things. It's a difficult point to access. We don't want the gas line to blow up."

Kocher said Public Works is using an on-call contract crew because the job is too long and involved for a regular city crew.

"When a job gets to be that deep and that time-consuming, you have to call in an urgent needs (contractor)," he said. "You can't tie down a (city) crew on a job that's this demanding."

Workers said late last week they hope to be finished by Monday, Aug. 5. Kocher said crews are digging about 4 feet a day.

"Let's see what we've got in the next couple of weeks," he said last week. " We are now about 17 feet down."

Kocher said the original 18-inch terra cotta pipe, which dates to 1921, will be replaced with polyvinyl.

The hole is another example of the city's infrastructure problems. In a similar incident on a larger scale last year, a 130-year-old storm drain collapsed under East Monument Street downtown and tore away asphalt, closing the street for five months.


Earlier last year, a developing sinkhole was discovered under the Jones Falls Expressway and the city spent about $2 million to repair it.

"It's probably more common than you think because the infrastructure is getting older," Kocher said.

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Residents who live near the construction zone are hopeful the work will end soon.

"It's been a difficult thing," especially the detour, said architect Donald Sickler.

"It's inconvenient, but this is what living in the city is about," said a neighbor, who would not give her name.

Another neighbor, psychologist Dr. Frank Richardson, said he hasn't really heard the work and is enjoying the road being closed.


"They can work on this street forever," he said. "There's no traffic, no noise."

He said he feels safe around the sinkhole.

"I'm not worried I'm suddenly going to disappear," he said.