Environment

The seven-foot-wide sewer pipe underneath Main Street is crumbling further, forcing traffic down to one lane, Metropolitan Sewer District officials say.

Workers discovered a new gaping hole in the side of the sewer line on Sunday using a remote-controlled camera. Debris, including abandoned pipes, have fallen into the larger sewer line from the hole, according to a news release.

Sewer officials say it will take more than $20 million and at least another three months to fix the sewer on Main Street.

For safety reasons, MSD began limiting traffic to one lane on the north side of Main Street between Third and Fifth streets on Wednesday, according to the release.

Executive Director Tony Parrott estimates there are a dozen MSD construction projects going on around the city and many more sewer pipes that are in need of repair.

Other projects are underway on East Broadway and at East Breckinridge Street near Baxter Avenue.

“This is about aging infrastructure that needs to be replaced or rehabbed,” Parrott said. “The majority of the pipes that are particularly in the downtown sewer district area are pipes that are built back in the 1850s.”

Fears of a cave-in on Main Street began last August when MSD discovered corrosive sewer gases had eaten away at the concrete lining the inside of the pipe.

By April, MSD officials said the sewer pipe was on the verge of collapse.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

A view inside the Ohio River Interceptor pipe that runs under Main Street in Downtown Louisville. Corrosive sewer gases have erode the concrete lining exposing rebar.

The sewer line was installed between 1958 and 1960 and is one of the city’s largest, carrying about 40 percent of the city’s wastewater for treatment at the Morris Forman Water Quality Treatment Center, according to the release.

In the meantime, MSD is pumping the city sewage through a temporary sewer line using existing pipes.

Cave-ins are nothing new for Louisville’s aging sewer system.

The city has seen over 1,100 cave-ins in the last fiscal year, Parrott said. That’s in part because downtown combined sewer systems are made of aging brick and stone.

However, MSD has developed a plan to take care of the most vulnerable sections of sewers, Parrot said.

“We have now developed a critical repair plan to try and get out in front of those cave-ins or potential cave-ins so that we’re not reactive and we’re doing it in more of a comprehensive approach,” he said.

Those repairs are in addition to projects MSD has planned as part of a federal consent decree from the Environmental Protection Agency. The mandate is designed to address overflows from Louisville’s sewer systems by 2024.

MSD recently revised plans in order to limit future construction projects. Officials canceled plans to build a sewage storage basin in the Highlands and instead opted to extend the enormous underground storage tunnel it’s building underneath downtown Louisville.

When complete, the Waterway Protection Tunnel will hold up to 55 million gallons of sewage and stormwater and extend four miles underneath the city to help prevent overflows into the Ohio River and Beargrass Creek, the agency announced Monday.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

This post has been updated. 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.