In a long-contested battle, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) recently sent a letter to the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) insisting that they “cease and desist” all work on the Purple Line. The letter states that construction work has come perilously close to damaging a 66-inch water main tasked with providing drinking water to Prince George’s County.
The letter details the concerns of the WSSC and says that if the water main is broken, it could cut off clean drinking water for the southern Prince George’s area. The force of the water that would be unleashed could harm train passengers as it destroys train tracks.
WSSC’s general manager, Carla A. Reid, recently penned the letter addressed to MTA head Kevin Quinn that said in part, “I am writing to demand that you cease unauthorized construction work at the Glenridge Rail Storage Yard until further notice.”
MTA’s director, Jeff Ensor, visited the site and said that so far, nothing has been built near the water main, adding, “Last week, we said we understood their concerns and offered to relocate the pipe, and we’re working through the details of that with WSSC. Both parties, I think, are optimistic that we’ll have a good resolution.”
He goes on to say that the MTA has assured the WSSC that all construction will be moved away from the facility and the train tracks. In the original plans, the maintenance and operations building for the Purple Line would have been constructed at least 50 to 70 feet away from the train tracks and 65 to 85 feet from the pipe. The WSSC does not feel that this is far enough away to be safe, reiterating that any damage to the pipe would cause several major catastrophes for the area.
A Report Confirms Suspicions
In 2012, a utility analysis was done that showed that the water main could explode if dynamite were used anywhere from 20 to 200 feet. This study confirmed that water exploding from the pipe would travel at 90 mph and be dangerous for anyone in its path.
Though some believe the WSSC is being too cautious, in recent years, there have several similar incidents where large water mains ruptured and caused massive damaged. A 54-inch pipe broke in 2011 near the Capital Beltway in Prince George’s. The force of the water threw parked cars upside down and damaged businesses. In 2008 in Bethesda, another large pipe burst flooding River Road and stranding motorists. Helicopters were called in to rescue them.
In recent years, Maryland suburbs have had their fair share of trouble due to underground water pipes. The reasons vary but basically come back to the fact that some of these pipes are now 70 years old. After so many years of usage, they’ve simply worn out and must be replaced.