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Canal Road, M Street project aims to stop leaks

By Carol Buckley

Current Staff Writer

Georgetowners will trade one long-running infrastructure project for another in the coming weeks, as the Q Street sewer-separation effort winds down and the city water authority gears up to repair a crucial water main running beneath the neighborhood’s streets.

Beginning July 11, the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority will work to repair a 48-inch water main that ferries drinking water to spots throughout the city and runs under Canal Road and M Street. By the end of that month, the final step of the Q Street project, repaving, will be complete, reported authority spokesperson Emanuel Briggs.

Fixing worn joints in the aging 48-inch main is part of the agency’s capital improvement program, said Briggs. But there are more immediate concerns as well, he said: Leaks have been reported along the main, and during the winter that can mean icing on city streets.

In January, two people were killed in a head-on collision on Canal Road. Police reported that there was ice on the roadway, and area residents have frequently complained of standing water on the busy road.

Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioner Charlie Eason said that he was “disappointed” in the short notice given to the community about the project. But, he added, he is pleased that the water authority accepted his suggestion to work on the Canal Road excavation pit -- to be located near the Georgetown University entrance -- during the summer, when traffic is lighter.

One lane of the popular commuter thoroughfare will be closed between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Eason said he was told by agency officials.

Briggs said that there will likely be some road lane closures, and the water authority is working out details -- including the expanse of any closures -- with the District Department of Transportation now.

After wrapping up Canal Road, workers will move to excavation pits at the intersection of Foxhall Road and MacArthur Boulevard, as well as along M Street near Key Bridge, but initial plans indicate that traffic impacts during that portion of the work will be less severe, said Eason.

No water shutoffs are planned as part of the repair, according to agency materials.

In the second phase of the project, slated to finish in March of next year, workers will repair portions of pipe under M Street east of Georgetown, between 26th Street and New Hampshire Avenue.

Georgetowners may also see evidence of a separate D.C. Water and Sewer Authority project just beyond the bounds of their neighborhood. First announced last year, repairs to the Crosstown Tunnel, another main that delivers drinking water to large swaths of the city, will also begin in July.

Workers will access the main through two shafts, one at Foxhall Road and MacArthur Boulevard and a second on the recently renovated Francis Field in the West End.

As in the other project, repairs are necessary to prevent further leaks, engineers told Foxhall residents at a meeting last fall.

Agency supervisor Duncan Mukira said the agency first suspected that the large tunnel -- which measures 84 feet in diameter -- had sprung leaks in December 2008 when standing water was reported in Rock Creek Park and along the parkway above the tunnel’s path.

Testing soon confirmed that suspicion, showing that the excess water, particularly dangerous to motorists in freezing weather, was potable.

The project, slated to run through September of next year, will close off the northeastern portion of Francis Field, according to agency documents. The task -- to widen the access shaft located there from 4 to 26 feet in diameter -- “will generate certain levels of noise and vibration,” the reports state. Temporary sound walls will aim to mitigate the impact on nearby residents, businesses and government facilities, which include an elementary school and public swimming pool.

Though construction staging will close off a parking lane on the west side of 25th Street, no road closures are scheduled as part of the Crosstown Tunnel project, according to an agency report.

This article appears in the June 22 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.