PWSA crews finish repairing one water main break, rush to repair another

| Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, 12:32 p.m.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority scrambled Saturday to repair the second big water main break that occurred within the last three days, and interim executive director Jim Good said the agency simply can't afford to replace every aging water line before it bursts.

“We have to prioritize and adjust as we can,” said Good. “If we know that a line is in bad shape and serves critical customers, we make a priority list and try to get to it. It's a balancing act.”

A 30-inch line under the South Millvale Bridge in Bloomfield burst around 6 a.m. Saturday, sending water cascading on the East Busway and forcing Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh to use tankers as a temporary water supply.

As crews worked on the Bloomfield break, others braved cold weather to fill in a gaping hole in Fort Pitt Boulevard caused by a 12-inch line break Thursday morning. The authority said the hole would be filled Saturday, but a concrete paving base won't be placed until Sunday. A portion of the boulevard by Smithfield Street and Wood Street remained closed Saturday.

Both broken lines were made of cast iron, Good said, which can become brittle and break. He didn't know the exact age of the lines.

A number of factors can lead to line breaks, including temperature changes, the age of the lines, what materials the lines are made of, soil conditions, and even heavy traffic near or over the lines, Good added.

Good said he didn't know how long repairs to the 30-inch line would take, because the rupture exposed a 24-inch line and a gas line, and crews had to secure those lines first.

“We don't expect any additional problems,” Good said.

PWSA spokeswoman Melissa Rubin said a couple dozen customers either didn't have water service or had low water pressure for several hours after the Bloomfield break, though pressure was expected to return to normal by Saturday evening.

Children's Hospital got water back mid-morning, but at lower pressure, UPMC spokesman Chuck Finder said. He said that patient operations and other hospital functions went on uninterrupted.

Water from the break flowed down the Neville Street ramp connecting the East Busway to North Oakland, and the Port Authority had to use a bus shuttle between the Negley and Herron stations.

Good said that many lines in the city are 150 years old, and that replacing all of them could cost billions of dollars. He said in one recent instance, crews working on a sewer line in Oakland noticed that the water line was bad, so it was replaced at the same time.

“It's a question of priority and money,” Good said.

Crews from Pennsylvania American Water also worked on a water main break along Route 51 in Carrick on Saturday, with 10 customers expected to have service restored by late evening, spokesman Gary Lobaugh said.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or

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