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Louisville In Flux: Sewage Flows Shifting, Traffic Declining

Broadway during rush hour in March amid the coronavirus outrbreak.
Broadway during rush hour in March amid the coronavirus outrbreak.

Louisville Metro operations are adapting to the changing dynamics of life and work due to the coronavirus.

Trash and sewer workers are seeing surges in residential waste as road maintenance crews work extended hours on roads free of rush hour traffic.

“Whether it be waste collection or road paving projects or pothole repair,” said Sal Melendez, Louisville’s public works department spokesman. “Our people play a key role in making sure that the city keeps moving.”

Over the last month, the Metropolitan Sewer District has watched sewage flows shift away from commercial and industrial areas and into residential areas, said Sheryl Lauder, MSD spokeswoman. Most of that flow isn’t actually sewage, but so-called “gray water” used to wash dishes, shower and do laundry.

Overall flows are down slightly because of a drop-off in industrial operations, but crews have seen an increase in residential sewage backups. The culprit? All those disposable wipes that are great for disinfecting, but are not meant to be flushed down the toilet.

“That’s what the crews are finding when they put the cameras in the lines,” Lauder said.

On the other side of residential waste, trash collection crews are seeing such a large increase in volume that Melendez with public works is having to ask residents to contain their overflow trash in some kind of bin.

Neither Melendez nor Lauder could immediately quantify the increases in volume, but both said the changes were “significant.”

Meanwhile, shortened commute times — mine is from my bed to my computer — have reduced traffic so much road crews are able to work more hours to complete previously scheduled projects.

“You know, roads have to be repaired and one of the silver linings of COVID-19 is that traffic is not as much as it typically is,” he said. “That allows our crews to work longer hours and in a relatively safer work zone.

Melendez said crews are following social distancing guidelines as much as possible, wearing cloth masks and gloves, but are still sometimes working less than six feet from one another. So far, no one in public works has contracted the virus, he said.

Crews are working on eight to 10 roadways every week. Just this past week, they were able to finish repaving a stretch of Muhammad Ali Boulevard in downtown Louisville.

Editor’s note: If you have a story from the workplace or feel you are an employee working in unsafe conditions, please reach out to reporter Ryan Van Velzer at rvanvelzer@wfpl.org.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.