I-694 washout left highway closed for a week

Aundrea Kinney/Review • Oakdale public works crews, Minnesota Department of Transportation crews and private contractors worked around the clock the week of Dec. 3 in freezing weather to dig up and replace a damaged water main under Interstate 694 near the 15th Street overpass. The damaged water main caused the closure of the interstate for a week.

submitted photo • A large crack in an Oakdale water main was determined to be the cause of a washout under I-694. Public works staff speculate that the crack formed due to seasonal shifts in the ground or construction the roadway has seen over the years.

submitted photo • A washout, which occurred between the northbound and southbound lanes of I-694, caused deterioration of the road’s substructure and required a roughly five-mile stretch of highway to be closed the week of Dec. 3.

Aundrea Kinney/Review • A 20-foot hole was dug between the northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 694 in order to provide work crews access to the damaged water main. I-694, which was closed the week of Dec. 3, is typically used by more than 87,000 cars a day.

A roughly five-mile section of Interstate 694 was closed the week of Dec. 3 due to a cracked Oakdale water main, causing frustration for drivers as winter weather hit the area.

“It is significant that this roadway is closed because 694 carries about 87,000 cars a day,” said Kevin Gutknecht, Minnesota Department of Transportation communications director, at a Dec. 4 press conference.

“The water main break that occurred over the weekend has impacted our community greatly,” added Oakdale Mayor Paul Reinke.

Many Oakdale residents lost water pressure in their homes Dec. 3, and about 35 homes lost water service altogether because of the cracked water main, according to a city statement. As a result, the community was asked to conserve water Dec. 3 and 4 as public works crews worked around the clock to find and repair the problem.

Although city staffers saw detection alarms going off between 6 and 7 a.m. Dec. 3, indicating the city was losing water pressure, they were unable to initially pinpoint the location.

“We knew we had a large issue because of the amount of water that was being drawn out of our system and we just went kind of treasure hunting, I guess, for where that issue was,” said Shawn Nelson, Oakdale utilities superintendent. He estimated that between 1.5 million and 2 million gallons of water were lost.

A resident helped the search by calling the city at about 9 a.m. Dec. 3 with a report of water on I-694. By 9:15 a.m., the interstate was closed between 10th Street and County Road 14, though the closed area was later expanded to include the stretch of I-694 between Interstate 94 and Highway 36.

Public works crews discovered a washout between the northbound and southbound lanes of the interstate near the 15th Street overpass, and learned the washout damaged the road’s substructure.

At the time, city staff knew the washout was caused by a leak in one of the city’s primary water mains that, like an artery, channels water from one side of the city to the other.

According to Gutknecht, MnDOT received numerous calls from commuters questioning why such a large area had to be closed.

“Whenever MnDOT creates a detour, they detour traffic to a like road,” Gutknecht said. “In other words, a road that’s a similar size that’s constructed to handle a high level of traffic or the same level of traffic, so that would be 36, 35E and 94.”

As public works crews, private contractors and MnDOT staff worked to unearth the damaged pipe, water was rerouted through the city to reach homes that were still without service. Some five hours after the city found out about the problem, all but 10 homes had regained water service, and those remaining homes received bottled water from the city until their service was restored later in the week.

When crews uprooted the water main Dec. 4, they determined the leak was caused by a crack and not deterioration of the 53-year-old pipe.

“Based on our findings, all joints and casing appear to be in good condition,” Nelson said in a Dec. 5 statement. “It appears that the pipe may have been leaking slightly prior to the incident, which could be due to several possible causes, including movement in the ground, and roadway work.”

Due to the nature of the damage, the cracked section of water main pipe required full replacement, which was completed Dec. 6.

Following the pipe replacement, MnDOT was expected to complete road repairs before the weekend of Dec. 9, after the deadline for this edition of the Review. The roadway was expected to reopen sometime that same weekend.

“We realize this is inconvenient for the public and we apologize for that, but we want to get it fixed and we want to get it fixed right,” Gutknecht said.

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.

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