Pizza delivery driver Tony Chea was driving down Loomis Street when he noticed a hole in the pavement, about 1 foot into the ground.
“I got out the car and was like, ‘That looks suspicious,’ and I looked down and there was just a hole,” Chea said.
After Chea saw the hole, he called the Department of Public Works (DPW) and alerted others in a local Facebook group.
“Just so everyone is aware there is a small sink hole forming on Loomis. Stay safe!!!” Chea wrote.
The hole on Loomis has since been repaired, but sink holes are a recurring problem in Burlington. Over the last year, city residents reported 17 sink holes through phone calls, emails, and reports on the website SeeClickFix, DPW Public Information Manager Robert Goulding said.
They’ve puzzled DPW workers, created road blockages, and even inspired quirky Twitter accounts.
After a sink hole caused havoc on Battery Street in July 2013, the Twitter account @BtvSinkHole was created. “I’m just your friendly neighborhood sinkhole,” the account’s bio states.
What causes a sink hole?
Sink holes can be more complicated than they seem.
“A sink hole is a challenge and it’s not a typical pothole,” Goulding said. “It’s very often related to something underneath the surface that has created that void.”
Sink holes are caused by the movement of water below the surface. As water moves through the dirt underneath the pavement, the dirt washes away, leaving the pavement as the only barrier to the hole beneath.
Sink holes are often caused by a failed pipe, Goulding told the Free Press. When the pipe fails, “then you have a collapse.”
In May 2018, photos of a DPW truck stuck in a sink hole made the rounds on social media. “@BTVDPW Finding sink holes so we don’t have to,” one tweet read. The sink hole was caused by a failed stormwater pipe, Goulding said.
Thankfully, no one was hurt and no equipment was damaged, but the incident brought a good amount of awareness to funding.
The silver lining of the not-so-subtle irony of a DPW truck stuck in a sink hole, Goulding said, is that it allowed the DPW to tell a bigger story about sustainable infrastructure.
“People love paving and people want the roads paved, and rightfully so,” Goulding said. “But at the same time, one of the things that we have been beating the drum about the last few years is the need for direct investment into that subterranean infrastructure.”
Some water main pipes could be 75 to over 100 years old.
Burlington residents have voted twice, in 2016 and 2018 respectively, in support of bond measures to improve Burlington’s capital, drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, according to the DPW website.
How is the city addressing sink holes?
Since those bond measures were passed in 2016, the DPW has fixed 16.69 miles of paving, 9.63 miles of sidewalk and 7.6 miles of water main rehabilitation, according to the department’s website.
This year’s plan includes 10.1 miles of sewer and stormwater pipe rehab.
“It’s not just a matter of Burlington, it’s really nationwide, a lot of this infrastructure is hidden, it’s unseen, we don’t focus on it and we wait for it to fall apart,” Goulding said. “Really the last five years has been this aggressive effort to not let that happen.”
Contact Alex Fleury at email@example.com.
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