TEMPE, Ariz. – A water main break shut down both directions of US 60 in Tempe, according to the Arizona Dept. of Transportation (ADOT) on May 7, and it is currently still closed.
The freeway is currently shut down between I-10 and Loop 101. Repair work could take several days on the several-mile stretch, officials said.
The calls came in to ADOT around 3 to 4 a.m on May 7.
“A 24-inch City of Tempe water transmission line broke overnight in the middle of the U.S. 60, leading to flooding and the temporary full closure of the freeway between Loop 101 and Rural Road,” city officials said.
Crews worked to shut off water to the area before working with the Arizona Dept. of Transportation to fix the damage. The freeway had flooded for several hours, and damage was done beneath the pavement.
An estimated 8 million gallons of water were lost in the break. Water rates won’t increase because of this incident.
Road closures & detours
The eastbound lanes are closed between I-10 and Loop 101, while the westbound lanes are closed between Loop 101 and McClintock Drive.
Drivers can still use the westbound US 60 on-ramps between McClintock and I-10.
The detour is explained by ADOT as, “Westbound U.S. 60 traffic approaching the closure is being detoured to north or southbound Loop 101. Drivers who travel north on Loop 101 can then use westbound Loop 202 (Red Mountain Freeway) toward Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport or the downtown Phoenix area. Motorists who use southbound Loop 101 can use westbound Loop 202 (Santan Freeway) in the Chandler area to connect with I-10.
Drivers on I-10 who normally would use eastbound US 60 should consider using either eastbound Loop 202 (Santan Freeway) to northbound Loop 101 or eastbound Loop 202 (Red Mountain Freeway) to southbound Loop 101 to reach eastbound U.S. 60 beyond the closure.”
For a brief period on May 11, ADOT closed the McClintock Drive overpass spanning the U.S. 60, “out of an abundance of caution as ADOT structural engineers evaluated possible settling cracks in a few of the bridge column supports that are between the east and westbound lanes.”
The overpass was reopened but shut down once again the next day. There is no estimated time to open the overpass.
Randy Everett with ADOT says, “In my time in ADOT, I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”
“Working with our contractor to cut a hole in the pipe in McClintock so that we can send a camera down the line to actually pinpoint where the break is,” explained Mark Weber, interim deputy municipal utilities director of water utilities with the city of Tempe.
He says the pipe is about 50 years old, and would normally last about 75 years. This is the first transmission main break they’ve had like this in the city’s history. “Pipes corrode, you know. They’re steel cylinder pipes,” Weber said.
In the meantime, ADOT has to alleviate what will likely be a traffic nightmare as the weekend ends and weekday travel begins.
The city says it’s actually been in the planning stage of an assessment project to inspect these pipes for the last year, but the project hadn’t been executed yet. “We knew that this was a possibility, so we were trying to get out in front of it, and unfortunately we didn’t quite get out in front of this,” Weber said.
How much this will cost taxpayers in Tempe, officials say they aren’t prepared to answer that, but it’s going to be significant.
“While most of the valves are already shut, there are additional valves south of the freeway that still need to be completely closed to the point of having a water-tight seal. It is normal for many valves to not seal completely – typically that is not an issue that impedes work on a water line. However, in this instance, a complete seal is necessary for the freeway to dry out and be repaired,” Tempe officials said on May 9.
Crews also found where the break happened.
“Using a camera fed through the line, crews have identified an approximately 1.5-foot rupture in the steel pipe. The break is not under the freeway; it is located at the top of the McClintock Drive westbound off-ramp, between the McClintock Drive overpass and pedestrian bridge. The pipe is about 22 feet down in this location,” city officials explained, adding, “City employees and contractors are working tirelessly around the clock to resolve the break and damage to or beneath the freeway. The pipe repair is now separate from the freeway repair and reopening since the break is not under the freeway,” officials said.
US 60 Eastbound lanes at McClintock Dr excavation area Following Tempe water pipe break. (ADOT)
It’s a Tempe pipe, so the city shut off the water main and will take the lead on assessing and repairing it. However, ADOT comes in for the major water damage and erosion to the road.
“It’s not about the water sitting on the freeway,” Nintzel said. “It’s actually going to be the damage caused by the force of water underneath the freeway. When that pipe burst, there was actually a lot of water causing erosion. We do know that’s occurred, we don’t know how bad the damage is.”
Drivers have been diverted, of course, due to the closure.
“I said wow this is really inconvenient. I pulled off, and I don’t remember what road I got on,” a driver said. “I’ve been on there for like 20 minutes right now. It was hard to get off,” another driver said.
Combine this closure with the Broadway Improvement Project shutting down I-10 westbound, between Loop 202 and US 60. ADOT says it’s not planning on doing the scheduled eastbound closure Saturday night because of this incident.
The city of Tempe says there’s no estimated time for the repairs to be completed. Residential and commercial water services weren’t impacted by this incident.
“Now city contractors are working alongside ADOT to fully assess the damage and begin the process of making repairs. This entails placing a camera in the line to detect the exact location of the break. Once located, the line is under about 1 ½ feet of pavement, so digging will need to occur – followed by the repair, repaving and inspections before traffic can resume,” city officials explained.
On May 12, officials held a news conference to provide updates on the ongoing closure.
During the news conference, Tempe city officials asked for patience from people, and urged commuters to not use neighborhood roads to get around the traffic, but use the described alternate routes instead.
Officials also say they are hoping to reopen the eastbound lanes at the beginning of next week. As for the westbound lanes, they don’t know at this point when they will be able to reopen them.
RELATED: Major Phoenix-area freeway closures, restrictions this weekend: What to know for May 6-9
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Water main break on US 60