Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Of Sinkholes and Railroad Tracks

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know that I have been maniacally obsessed with the clusterflub that is the Beaver Street culvert at Beaver Brook.  It started with annoyance at the traffic delays and detours and general disruption associated with the 'discovery' of the sinkhole.  Then, it turned to anger when the City Engineer was quoted in the News Tribune as saying that he "had known about" the roadway for sometime, and hadn't realized it was "that bad."

Of course, it's hard to tell that the roadway is in disrepair because it's not clear when walking or driving by and seeing the disused pedestrian bridge tossed on top of a few concrete barricades all of which is overgrown with brush.  And it's difficult to determine that it's "that bad" when taxpayers and pedestrians have been calling city councillors to get the road repaired for at least the 13 years I have lived here.  I mean, really, what evidence is there that the roadway is "that bad"?

Oh, but wait!  Apparently, there was a request from the City Engineer in October of 2013 for $150,000 to repair the road.   I say 'apparently' because I cannot find the minutes from the October 2013 meeting (or minutes from any meetings in 2013 after June.)  So, something must have tipped him off.  Of course, even when the money was appropriated by City Council, there was no request for proposal initiated until July of this year.  You may recall, then, that there was something called "winter" that occurred and probably didn't do anything to help the condition of the road.

So, fast forward to September 2014 and the EMERGENCY and the ROAD CLOSURES and the TRAFFIC!  And the CONFUSION!  If the City of Waltham owns the road and the state (MDC) owns the brook and the brook is part of a designated wetlands under federal oversight, then we all must wring our hands because. Confusion.

And there's more!  There's a natural gas pipeline that runs under the culvert.  The pipeline runs on both sides of the road and is, apparently, 'live' on only one side.  I still don't know which side, however, I am guessing that if there is a sinkhole, the whole roadway will fall into Beaver Brook, taking infrastructure from both sides of the roadway with it.  Near the gas pipeline, there is a propane filling station AND a gas station.  Can anyone say 'combustion'?

And still more!  Since the infrastructure holding up the roadway has failed, things like tree roots and crumbled concrete and the adjacent railroad tracks have all done their part to keep things moving along Beaver Street.  And this weekend, the MBTA replaced the commuter rail tracks!  So, if the old tracks were, in part, helping to keep the roadway out of the creek and off of the gas lines, then WHAT IS HOLDING THE ROAD UP NOW?  Ah yes, tree roots.  I feel much better.

I have pointed out in other media that Beaver Street is about two miles long and connects the eastern part of the city to the center and western part of the city and is home to Bentley University, an office park, the American Legion, two Historical Mansions, a private high school, a Girl Scout camp, and many homes.  Fitzgerald Elementary School, with its 516 students, backs up to the office park and is adjacent to the creek.  I've been told that there are 'weekly inspections' by the state and that no less an authority than MassDOT has confirmed that the roadway is safe 'enough' to have traffic in one direction along the center of the roadway.  And that the natural gas line won't explode.  Because that never happens.

So what's the timeline for the repair? It is scheduled to begin in approximately SIX MONTHS, if there is an accepted plan in place by then.

I'm sure we'll be just fine until then.


  1. Liz - thank you for getting all of the info in one place. I didn't realize there was a sinkhole. I absolutely can't believe that it will take AT LEAST 6 months to fix a 12 foot span. REALLY ? I get that every agency possible is going to be involved, but can't they just remove what is there, drop a big concrete box, run some gas lines, and be done with it ?
    C'mon Mayor - let's see some action before the election. Mayor ? Are you there ?

    And I truly feel for you and the "one-way-ness" of the traffic pattern for the foreseeable future.

    1. It will get worse before it gets better. AND there's another sinkhole causing the kerfuffle over on Lexington Street. Gah! Is all of Waltham sinking?