O'Malley, Leggett Tour Water Main Break Damage

Road remains closed

BETHESDA, Md. -- Gov. Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett on Wednesday toured the scene of a massive water main break that trapped nine motorists on a suburban Washington road.

Meanwhile, another water main break in the same area, albeit a much smaller one, closed Seven Locks Road Wednesday morning.  Officials said it could be closed until 7 p.m.  Seven Locks was being used as an alternate route for traffic trying to use River Road.

Wednesday morning O'Malley and Leggett  joined Transportation Secretary John Porcari and State Highway officials for a tour of the area along River Road in Bethesda.

Emergency workers used boats and helicopters to rescue people stranded in their cars when the main broke around 8 a.m. Tuesday, sending a torrent of water onto the road. Five people were checked for hypothermia, but officials say there were no serious injuries.

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Officials said 150,000 gallons of water were rushing out each minute at one point, spilling rocks and other debris onto the road. Trees fell onto a power line and knocked down a utility pole.

A three-man rescue crew from Cabin John Station was running errands to the bank and to get supplies and saw the situation develop in front of them when they turned on to River Road. The crew called 911 and used their swift-water training to save four people.
Four people were rescued by helicopters. A Maryland State Police helicopter, manned by pilot Jim MacKay and flight paramedic Sgt. Nathan Wheelock, rescued a woman from one car and a woman and a child from another car.
The fourth person rescued by air was another rescuer, Lt. Pat Mitchell, who found himself unable to move in the rushing waters after saving two people. A Park Police helicopter crew dropped a basket down to save Mitchell.
Both helicopter crews attributed the successful rescues to great training.

River Road will remain closed for several days between Bradley Boulevard and Seven Locks Road. Alternate routes include: Persimmon Tree Road to MacArthur Boulevard, Falls Road to Democracy Boulevard, or Bradley Boulevard to Seven Locks.

Motorists in the area are being detoured:

  • From I-495, northbound River Road traffic will be detoured to a right onto Seven Locks Road, a left onto MD 191 (Bradley Blvd) back to River Road.
  • Southbound River Road traffic will be detoured to a left onto MD 191 (Bradley Boulevard) to a right onto Seven Locks Road back to River Road.

The Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission has warned its system is aging, overtaxed and underfunded. It serves 1.8 million suburban Maryland customers and has had an increasing number of water main breaks, including 1,357 between January and November this year. Last year, it had a record 2,129 breaks or leaks.

"We're plagued by old pipes," said John White, a Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission spokesman. "Throughout the nation, aging infrastructure is a problem."

"In the coming hours and days, we will have to make emergency repairs to the pipe and the affected roadways at exorbitant expense," said Montgomery County Council Member Nancy Floreen (D -- At-large), the chair of the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee. "I have called on the Council president to schedule a joint meeting of the Montgomery and Prince George’s county councils to find solutions to this recurring, and increasingly dangerous, series of water main breaks. Currently, we are on a more than 100-year cycle to replace outdated pipes. Obviously, this timeline is way too long and must be changed."

It can cost four times as much to make an emergency replacement as it does to make planned inspections and replacements.

Floreen urged federal and local governments work together to improve infrastructure and suggested any stimulus package funds should be used on the county's infrastructure.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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