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Failures In Historic Sewer Pipe Cause Traffic Headache On East Broadway

Ryan Van Velzer

History is right underneath your feet while driving down Broadway between south Second and Campbell streets in downtown Louisville, but unfortunately this bit of history is falling apart — brick by brick.

Contractors with Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District have discovered a pair of holes in the large brick sewer pipe beneath Broadway; a pipe completed in the year after the Civil War ended, 1866.

Workers are planning how best to repair the pipe, but considering how long past repairs have taken, it could take two months or longer fix, said Sheryl Lauder, MSD spokesperson.

In the meantime, MSD is asking drivers to avoid east Broadway between south Floyd and south Jackson streets beginning Monday, Oct. 12, as crews reduce lanes while they work out the repairs.

Per MSD:

  • Motorist on E Broadway can go straight or make a right turn onto Broadway
  • Motorists on S Floyd, S Preston and S Jackson can make right turns only onto Broadway
  • No traffic can cross the center part of the intersections at Broadway and S Floyd and S Preston streets.
  • The intersections are open for pedestrians, and traffic control officials will assist crossings.

Workers discovered the damage while inspecting the pipe as part of a comprehensive sewer line rehabilitation project.

They found two holes where bricks and soil have fallen into the pipe and created empty spaces between the pipe and the pavement—a hazard that could lead to a sinkhole, Lauder said.

MSD has already repaired the pipe at least four times since 2009, and is planning whether or not to complete the full rehabilitation of the mile-long pipe now, or later.

The sewer district maintains more than 3,300 miles of pipe in Louisville. Many of the pipes are 75 years old or more.

Climate change is accelerating the rate at which many of these pipes fall apart, Lauder said. MSD has measured an increase in rain intensity and frequency.

Heavy rains can loosen and pull on the bricks in old sewer pipes, causing a domino effect leading to a sewer collapse.

“It’s a reality that we are dealing with and that’s part of this comprehensive sewer line inspection,” Lauder said.

Climate change is making Kentucky and the surrounding states warmer and generally wetter, with more frequent storms and droughts.

Much of the added rains will come in winter and spring, while changes to summer and fall precipitation are more uncertain, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report.

As of Friday, crews were still working to measure the size of the voids caused by the sewer collapses.

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

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