Northwest Portland

Parts of Burnside will remain closed until Wednesday afternoon

Parts of Burnside will remain closed until Wednesday afternoon »Play Video
Here is a 100-year-old piece of a water main pipe that broke early Tuesday morning. The city expects to have the section replaced someone Wednesday morning.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The water pipes under the city have minds of their own so there's no way to know where or when one could break.

That's what happened early Tuesday morning on West Burnside. A 100-year-old water main burst and sent water gushing into the area around Burnside and South Fourth Avenue near the Chinatown gate.

Crews said Wednesday morning that commuters in and around downtown Portland will need to deal with the mess for a second day as they work to fix the pipe. The Portland Water Bureau said the road won't be fixed until Wednesday afternoon.
Eastbound Burnside was still closed between S.W. 3rd and S.W. 5th, and westbound was still down to one lane Wednesday morning.

Ty Kovatch is the man in charge of getting it fixed. He said the pipe might be showing its age, or might have been effected by the weather.

"Science hasn't figured out what the one thing is that causes main breaks," says Kovatch. "But this is the time of the year when we start seeing more main breaks than any other time of the year."

Kovatch said the Portland Water Bureau maintains 2,500 miles of pipe throughout the city – most of it is mature. Portland is one of few cities across the country that prioritizes its repairs.

"Right now we're targeting 50s and 60s era galvanized steel pipe because it fails at an overwhelmingly higher rate than cast iron pipes," he said.

Kovatch said the pipe that burst near Chinatown was thought to be old but sturdy. It will go down as one of about 200 main breaks in the city this year.

"It seems like a lot but other jurisdictions have 700 or 1,000 – it just depends on where you're at," he said.

And in the big picture, Kovatch said the running joke around his office is that Portland is a place to be if you're a pipe.

"Pipe lasts much longer here than it does in other jurisdictions because our soils are conducive to it," Kovatch said.

Thirty-six feet of new pipe will be installed where the main broke on Burnside, and if all goes well, it'll work for the city for another century.