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After 123 years, it finally blew

WHAT LIES BENEATH: The water pipe that burst downtown yesterday was installed in 1885. Rupture highlights how accounting decision 'shortchanged' public

Jake Rupert, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Friday, May 09, 2008

Snarled downtown traffic due to two burst water pipes -- one of them 123 years old -- shows the folly of a city council budget decision to flip provincial money aimed at repairing city infrastructure to general operations, Bay Councillor Alex Cullen said yesterday.

The most serious burst pipe happened under Rideau Street in the westbound lanes just west of King Edward Avenue early yesterday morning, forcing the closing of Rideau Street during rush hour. The area is part of the major trucking and commuter route between Eastern Ontario and West Quebec, and although traffic didn't come to a standstill, delays were significant.

Traffic going west was detoured along York Street to Dalhousie Street, which took about a half hour to get through. The city opened eastbound lanes of Rideau Street at about 1:30 p.m.

Ottawa water main repare

The Rideau Street water main that had to be fixed yesterday, right, was laid in 1885. A water pipe that broke Wednesday under Elgin Street dates to 1964.

Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen

City officials hope to have the 30.5-centimetre cast-iron pipe, which was installed in 1885, repaired and the street reopened by rush hour this morning. But it might take longer, said Dixon Weir, director of the city's sewage and water systems.

Mr. Weir said the repair job will depend on what caused the rupture, and it will take some time to determine that.

He said in 123 years, this particular pipe has never leaked or burst, but he admitted that age probably did play a role in the situation.

"This section of pipe has worked perfectly since 1885, so it's worked quite well," he said. "The materials are quite strong, but everything has a lifespan. This one is quite old and you'd expect corrosion to be a factor after that many years."

The second burst water pipe happened Wednesday under Elgin Street, outside police headquarters. Yesterday, the street was closed in both directions while crews dug up a section to repair the pipe. That pipe is made of concrete and was laid in 1964. Officials hoped to have Elgin Street reopened by late last night.

For the last year, city public works officials have been saying the municipality is about $1 billion behind on repairs and replacement of sewers, water pipes, roads, bridges and buildings.

To help deal with this, council approved a special three-year, two-per-cent property tax levy in this year's budget. At the time, the province also gave the city $14.6 million for extra work, but council opted to take an equal amount out of the repair fund and use it for general operations.

Mr. Cullen said residents and upper-tier governments need to realize there is a serious and pressing need to have the work done.

"This is absolutely a sign of aging infrastructure," he said. "As long as this situation is not addressed, you can expect things like this to happen."

The councillor said elected officials at the city "shortchanged" the public by using the provincial money the way they did. He said the money could have gone to fixing something like this pipe and avoiding a future problem.

"It always costs more to fix things once they are broken than to maintain them or replace them when it's needed," he said.

Dale Harley, of the National Capital Heavy Construction Association, agreed with Mr. Cullen.


WHAT LIES BENEATH: The water pipe that burst downtown yesterday was installed in 1885. Rupture highlights how accounting decision 'shortchanged' public

Jake Rupert, The Ottawa Citizen n

Published: Friday, May 09, 2008

"Everybody said this sort of thing is going to happen," he said. "If you don't properly maintain your inventory, it's going to cost more down the road. It's the same for water mains, roads, and people's houses."

He said the city is doing the right thing by instituting a special levy for renewal and repair, but it came "too little, too late in this case."

Indeed, the city's water main system contains 2,700 kilometres of piping, and Mr. Weir said there are roughly 320 breaks per year. Two hundred kilometres of the pipe is made of cast iron and is older than 95 years.

Mr. Weir said he didn't know when the broken pipe was originally scheduled to be replaced, and the city estimates that at roughly $2,000 per metre, it would cost $400 million to replace all the cast-iron pipes in the water distribution system.

Special water and sewer rates charged to building owners on top of property taxes pay for the operation and renewal of the system. Earlier this year, council voted to bump those rates by 29.5 per cent by 2010, with three-quarters of the new money directed toward renewal.


123 Age of the broken Rideau Street pipe, in years

44 Age of the broken Elgin Street pipe, in years

2,700 Total length of city water pipe, in kilometres

200 Length of cast-iron pipe more than 95 years old, in kilometres

$2,000 Cost of replacing city water pipe, per metre

$400M Cost to replace all cast-iron pipe in the system

320 Number of breaks per year

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