Systems check

Officials say infrastructure is in good shape for its age

Officials say infrastructure is in good shape for its age

August 12, 2007|By PEPPER BALLARD

Washington County - July 18: An 83-year-old steam pipe exploded in midtown Manhattan, claiming one life, injuring more than 20 others and spewing steam and debris into the air.

Aug. 1: The 40-year-old Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed, throwing dozens of vehicles into the water. As of Friday, eight bodies had been recovered, and divers continued to search for remaining victims.

Although causes have not been determined, the age of the structures has been suggested as a contributing factor in each incident.

As it is around the country, the infrastructure in Washington County and Hagerstown is not getting any younger. But local officials said the area's infrastructure is in good condition, even though it requires constant upkeep and evaluation.


"I think that, in general, the infrastructure is in pretty good shape for the age of the town and the age of some of its infrastructure," said Jim Bender, Hagerstown's assistant city engineer. "It's in very good shape, but there are some very specific things that crop up that we know we need to pay attention to."

Between the city and county maintenance schedules and state and federal regulations guiding such work, officials said the drainage systems, road systems, bridges and sewage systems are well maintained in both the city and the county.

Underground tunnels

The backbone of Hagerstown's storm water drainage system consists of brick arch drains that date to the turn of the 20th century and are spread underground like a spider web, some large enough to stand inside, Bender said.

"Some of them are in excellent shape considering how old they are," Bender said.

The rest of the storm water drainage system is made up of concrete pipes, metal pipes and reinforced concrete pipes, he said.

"I'm sure that any town as old as Hagerstown has similar systems ... The cost of going in and completely replacing them (old drainage tunnels) would be astronomical," he said.

The city has to hire a consultant to inspect certain areas of the tunnel system because special equipment is needed to navigate the archways, some of which can only be inspected by crawling.

"It can be dangerous. The thing we need to keep in mind, we don't have any control over what someone might flush down a storm drain," he said.

Plans are in the works to replace water mains, sewer mains and storm drains in the Jonathan Street area, which faced several water main breaks recently.

Bender said the Jonathan Street area has some of the oldest underground infrastructure in town.

"The council has indicated that they're very anxious to move ahead on that project," Bender said. "I can see that happening maybe next year."

Water, water

Engineering teams are sent to inspect the county's culverts, which have been repaired or replaced over the years with corrugated metal pipes, said Joe Kroboth, Washington County's director of public works.

Likewise, staff members maintain the county's five wastewater treatment plants and five water treatment plants, said Julie Pippel, Washington County's director of the Division of Environmental Management.

The plants are regularly inspected by the Maryland Department of the Environment, which recently required the state's wastewater treatment plants to reduce their nitrogen and phosphorous levels.

"The plants are running in compliance with state regulations," Pippel said.

The city's Wastewater Department Treatment Plant has completed the required biological nutrient removal upgrade and other treatment upgrades within the past five years, Mike Spiker, the City of Hagerstown's director of utilities said in an e-mail.

The engineering for the Enhanced Nutrient Removal Upgrade, a project that will cost about $10 million, will be completed during 2010, Spiker wrote.

The county's Potomac River dams were inspected by the National Park Service and Bureau of Reclamation last week and no major problems were found, according to a published report.

Over the river

Just as the dams appear safe, the county's bridges pose no problems, said Gary Rohrer, Washington County's director of special projects and former director of public works.

"Our bridges are truly very safe structures," he said " ... Our stone arch bridges are the oldest. We take a great deal of pride in maintaining those and keeping them in the proper position,"

Rohrer said the county has systematically replaced and repaired its 22 stone arch bridges, at times stripping the bridges down to their arch rings to rebuild the historical structures.

"Pardon the pun, but they're rock solid," he said.

Chuck Gischlar, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said, "We have a very aggressive bridge inspection program. We do underwater inspection every four years when federal guidelines say to do it every five years."

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