DOT probes cause of downtown Ellsworth sinkhole

Work crews on Tuesday applied a new layer of asphalt to a
patch used to fill an 8- to 10-foot-deep sinkhole that developed early
Tuesday in a busy intersection in downtown Ellsworth. The intersection
was closed to traffic for much of the morning commute on Thursday as
the crews worked on the road and used a camera to explore an
underground drainage system that had been undermined during a large
storm on Monday night, leading to the sinkhole.
Work crews on Tuesday applied a new layer of asphalt to a patch used to fill an 8- to 10-foot-deep sinkhole that developed early Tuesday in a busy intersection in downtown Ellsworth. The intersection was closed to traffic for much of the morning commute on Thursday as the crews worked on the road and used a camera to explore an underground drainage system that had been undermined during a large storm on Monday night, leading to the sinkhole.
Posted Aug. 04, 2011, at 1:36 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 04, 2011, at 7:27 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — The Maine Department of Transportation and Ellsworth city officials said Thursday that they will have to analyze video of a failed drainage system that caused a large sinkhole in a major intersection before deciding how quickly the system must be repaired.

Early Tuesday, a sinkhole measuring 8 to 10 feet deep and 4 to 6 feet wide opened near the intersection of Routes 1 and 3, State Street and Water Street after heavy rains undermined the aging drainage system. The sinkhole was repaired quickly but officials warned at the time the fix was only temporary.

On Thursday, city crews descended under the street and used a camera to help assess the extent of the damage to the drainage system. Failures in both a metal culvert and a clay pipe led to the washout that eventually caused the sinkhole.

“What we are doing now is going over the information that we got today and determining what the best course of action is,” said Mark Latti, spokesman for the DOT. “Can we wait until the fall to make the repairs or do we need to act sooner?”

The ramifications of tearing up a busy downtown intersection in the middle of the summer tourist season quickly became obvious Thursday morning as traffic in all four directions began stacking up while the crews worked underground.

In addition to sending crews with a camera into the drainage system, the DOT also re-excavated the top layer of the temporary patch, which had settled under the weight of traffic, and filled it with new asphalt.

The entire intersection was closed at 9 a.m. and traffic had to be rerouted, although some lanes were quickly reopened.

Michelle Beal, Ellsworth city manager, said if major repairs have to be made soon, the city has told the DOT that they would hope the work could be done at night to avoid hurting downtown businesses, commuters and tourists.

As for Thursday’s work, Beal said city and state officials wanted to make sure they knew what they were dealing with.

“There was a sense of urgency that we just didn’t know how bad of a situation we had with that sinkhole,” Beal said.

Latti said a decision on how to proceed likely would come within a week or two.

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