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Father Hurley Boulevard Sinkhole Adds to County Budget Woes

The project to repair and replace the failed culvert running under Father Hurley Boulevard was one of the reasons that Montgomery County was facing a $50 million budget gap in the upcoming budget, according to County Executive Marc Elrich.

The County Executive told reporters at a media roundtable last Thursday that the sinkhole was costing the County $20 million to repair. He pointed out that there were some costs from last year, which were unexpected and specifically mentioned the sinkhole on Father Hurley Boulevard.

“We had some surprises from last year,” said Elrich. “There were some capital expenses that we didn’t anticipate. There was a hole in a bridge that exposed gas lines, electric lines, and water. It made for a very expensive fix for a sinkhole. It was a lot more than a sinkhole. I cost a lot of money, about $20 million that we had not anticipated in our capital budget. That money was set aside and planned for other projects this year.”

Germantown Pulse contacted the Montgomery County Department of Transportation regarding the repair project on Father Hurley Boulevard, which has been ongoing since the sinkhole developed on July 22 last year. According to MCDOT, the will cost the County $4 million, not the $20 million mentioned by Elrich last week.

The Pulse reached out to the County Executive’s office for clarification this week, and Public Information Officer Neil Greenberger confirmed that the project cost is indeed, $4 million. He said the County Executive “misspoke” regarding the cost of the sinkhole repairs.

The Germantown project became necessary last summer after three days of heavy rains created a 20-foot by 20-foot sinkhole on Father Hurley Boulevard caused by the failure of a 38-year-old culvert pipe which had rusted out, according to County officials. The sinkhole was the result of the massive amounts of rain coupled with an aging piece of infrastructure which Montgomery County didn’t even know was there until January of 2018.

The County Executive’s FY20 Capital Budget and FY19-24 Capital Improvements Program Bridge Renovations memo lists the Father Hurley sinkhole repairs. The memo says County took monies earmarked for another project to make the emergency repairs to the Germantown culvert.

“In July, a major sinkhole developed when a large culvert collapsed under Father Hurley Boulevard. Emergency repairs were initiated with existing project funding. This CIP amendment will replenish $4 million in project funding to replace the Valleywood Drive pedestrian bridge and River Road, Belfast Road, and Falling Creek culverts,” said the County Executive’s memo to the County Council. The Valleywood Drive pedestrian bridge is located in Silver Spring and connects Valleywood Drive to Moline Road and was severely damaged in 2017 when an intense rainstorm caused one of the bridge abutments to collapse. MCDOT removed the damaged bridge.

The County had identified 50 culverts, including the Father Hurley culvert, which were either failing or in danger of failing among them are the culverts located at River Road, Belfast Road, and Falling Creek.

The sinkhole moved the culvert under Father Hurley Boulevard to the top of the list of those needing repair. The sinkhole closed Father Hurley Boulevard for ten days over the summer as County Department of Transportation crews worked to fill the hole and created a short-term diversion pipe to convey the rainwater that used to go through the failed culvert. However, the real work to implement a long-term repair for the problem began in September, when the second phase of the project, which is to install a new culvert next to the old one. The installation process is called “boring and jacking.”

The ‘boring and jacking” process would involve some deep and large pits being excavated on either side of the roadway. “We’ll excavate pits alongside the road, and we will get down in that hole at the right elevation, and we will push a series of pipes through dirt, underneath the roadway to get to the other side,” said then-Chief of the Division of Transportation Engineering for the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, Bruce Johnston told Germantown Pulse in August. Johnston retired in from his County post in September.

According to Barry Fuss, with the MCDOT’s Division of Transportation Engineering, the Boring and Jacking operation was completed on November 2. “It took about as long as we thought it was going to take. It went very well. It could have been a big problem and a lot more expensive if they’d hit rock, but they did not hit any rock. It went really smooth.”

Fuss said that the piece installed during the Boring and Jacking process was a steel casing which would go around the culvert. The next phase was to construct a new pressurized concrete culvert inside the casing.

According to Fuss, the portion of the old culvert which ran under the roadway was only about half the culvert, the other half of the culvert has been the focus on work for the last few months. He said that another issue which complicated the process was that the old culvert did not run straight across Father Hurley Boulevard, but rather at an angle.

The project has been ongoing. Thankfully the road, which is a major north-south thoroughfare in Germantown, has been open to traffic since mid-August, with occasional temporary lane closures as needed. Fuss said work will continue until at least mid-spring.

The project was particularly tricky because of the layout of the original culvert. “The culvert starts on the side of the road not directly under the road. There is one part that is easier to construct, which is about half of the culvert. The portion that doesn’t run under the road also had to be rebuilt, and that is the portion which crews are currently working on,” he said. “The original culvert followed a path which ran similar to how the stream ran at the time. The rebuilt culvert runs perpendicular to the road and does not follow the same lines as the failed culvert. We wanted to go the shortest distance because it costs so much to use the jack and bore process.” Crews are now working on connecting the new culvert to the location of where the original culvert began, he said.

Further complicating the process was the fact that the storm drains in the area, all connected to the old culvert, he said. “Once again crews had to construct ways for the existing storm drains to connect to the new culvert.”

Further exacerbating the problem was the confluence of utility lines which ran down the length of the median on Father Hurley Boulevard. Fuss said that there are two natural gas distribution lines, there are a number of electrical lines, a 36-inch water line, and a 36-inch pressurized sewer line. “That is the one I was really scared of becoming a problem. I have never seen a pressurized 36-inch sewer line. I don’t want to think about the problems if that would have failed during our work.” He said the danger was that the new culvert is 40-feet below that road’s surface. “Once you expose of utility lines it becomes very dangerous because they must be supported or they are in danger of failing because of their own weight.”

Fuss said the need to get large equipment near and under the road resulted in the pedestrian paths which run on either side of Father Hurley Boulevard being destroyed. He said the paths would be repaired, but those repairs will not be completed until April or May when asphalt is available again. Asphalt is not produced in winter because cold temperatures don’t allow for it properly materialize, according to Fuss.


Top: The work to repair the failed culvert under Father Hurley Boulevard. This photo depicts the first steel pipe being jacked under the roadway.

Next: County Executive Marc Elrich at the Media Roundtable on Thursday, Jan. 10, where he mentioned that sinkhole and needed repairs required $20 million additional funds from the County Budget. His office later said that the County Executive misspoke and corrected the number to $4 million. Photo by Germantown Pulse.

Next: The failed 38-year-old culvert which created the sinkhole on Father Hurley Boulevard back in July of 2018. The soil can be seen around the curled culvert wall.

Next: The sinkhole on Father Hurley Boulevard being filled shortly after it appeared in July of 2018. Photo by Germantown Pulse.

Next: The first steel pipe to be “jack and bored” under the roadway.

Next: Piping in the adjacent area which is diverting the stream which runs through the culvert being replaced.

Next: A gas utility supply pipe being supported by temporary beams while work is being done to fill the sinkhole and replace the culvert.

Photos courtesy MCDOT Division of Transportation unless otherwise noted.

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