The city of Raleigh, North Carolina has started repairs on aging water and sewer lines after a sinkhole opened up on W. Millbrook Road. Officials believe that the sinkhole was the result of old infrastructure.
The city currently experiences one break per day in its 4,800-mile long sewer and water system. City officials are working to prevent future breaks.
A failure in a sewer pipe caused the sinkhole, which is expected to be repaired by June 5. The sewer line that caused the hole was built in the 1950s, but the oldest water line in use is believed to have been built in the 1880s.
“All pipes, regardless of their material or what they’re used for, have a natural lifespan, which can be drastically shortened depending on the actions of the previous owner,” says Next Level Pipe Lining.
Over the next ten years, the city plans to spend nearly $400 million repairing its old water and sewer lines.
To get ahead of potential breaks, the city is sending cameras underground to find collapses, cracks and other issues. The oldest and most important pipes will get the highest priority on the repair list.
Crews across the city have performed emergency maintenance on sewer and water pipes 30 times this year. During the same period last year, crews had performed 21 repairs.
Many of the oldest pipes in the city are below the streets in downtown Raleigh, where the bulk of the repairs are taking place. Repairs have been made on the pipes below Salisbury, Fayetteville, Edenton, Lenoir, West and Morgan streets.
Emergency repairs can disrupt normal traffic flows in the city. Crews block off part of the road and dig through the asphalt to patch a crack or hole in the pipe.
“We’re entering an era where replacement and repair is a major component of management,” said John Sorrell, project engineer at the city’s utilities department.
In 2013, the city increased its budget for water and sewer management to $6.86 million over a ten-year period. Approximately $4.66 million is budgeted for the next two fiscal years.
The city will use the money generated from service fees to pay for most of the repairs. Prior to expanding the budget, the city mainly performed emergency maintenance on leaking pipes.
Raleigh is now trying to avoid having to make emergency repairs by inspecting some of the oldest pipes in the city. Officials say that it’s more economical to assess and plan for repairs rather than performing emergency maintenance.
Cracks, corrosion, tree roots and grease in piping can all lead to repairs or replacement.
Low water pressure or discoloration are two signs of failing pipes, but officials say utility crews are the only ones that can determine whether repairs need to be made.
Utility crews perform inspections by parking a truck next to a manhole. In some cases, cameras are used to pinpoint the exact location of the problem.
While more than half of the city’s water and sewer pipes were installed in the last 25 years, many were laid before World War II.