Broken pipe closes 5th Street in heart of Old City for 2 weeks

Philadelphia Water Department workers excavate at the intersection of 5th and Chestnut. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia Water Department workers excavate at the intersection of 5th and Chestnut. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

This article originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

Don’t even try to use a car in Old City this weekend.

The Philadelphia Water Department has closed South 5th Street between Chestnut and Walnut  in hopes of preventing a road collapse in the heart of the busy historic destination.

The busy commercial artery will be closed to traffic for at least the next two weeks, city officials said.

John DiGiulio with the Philadelphia Water Department said a broken underground pipe had compromised the foundation of the street, causing the street to erode. The weight of traffic could cause the road to fully buckle, DiGiulio said. The street blockades went up on Thursday.

Philadelphia Water Department workers excavate at the intersection of 5th and Chestnut. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“The undermining means that there was nothing under the concrete supporting the street,” he said.

City workers reopened one lane of Chestnut Friday afternoon, but 5th Street will remain closed until all of the road work is finished.

Philadelphia is facing a major water infrastructure crisis as old pipes age and extreme weather becomes more common. Last July, a water main burst caused 15 million gallons of water to inundate Center City. The damage was much greater than the $500,000 insurance claims cap allotted to the city.

Philadelphia’s 3,200 miles of water pipes have an average age north of 70 years old. But it is the newly constructed pipes made of less reliable material that cause the city the most trouble, experts say.

A complete replacement of the water system would theoretically solve the problem, but this would cost about $7 billion. Given that the Water Department is entirely funded by local ratepayers, this is an impossible solution.

Instead, the Water Department began in 2019 to move forward with an incremental repair project that will replace about 1 percent of its lines a year.

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