This is what 100-year-old pipes look like - Metropolitan Planning Council

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This is what 100-year-old pipes look like

Linda Goodman

As a I rode into work the other day on State Street, I noticed several large holes in the street, lots of large equipment, and plenty of workers diligently digging up some of Chicago's thousands upon thousands of miles of pipe (couldn't tell if it was water, gas, or sewer from the bus).  When I got to work I had an e-mail waiting from Linda Goodman, an MPC Board Member, with several photos of comparable work happening outside her house, near the intersection of Racine and Dickens in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, and a question.  Here's a slightly revised transcript of our correspondence.

Linda Goodman

Linda: I was out walking the dog this morning and shot these pictures with my cell phone.  It gives you a sense for what the City is doing to replace the old water mains along Racine which date back to the mid 1880s.  The workman said the old pipe in the first picture was actually a gas main that they had to replace first, but that the old water mains look about the same.   I’m really enjoying the beeping of the trucks when they back up, not to mention the ubiquitous dust.   But investing in our infrastructure is a good thing.  I would love to learn exactly what the City is doing.  Is this part of a city-wide water main replacement program?  Or were we just on some high-priority maintenance list?

Me: Thanks for the photos, Linda. I think the answers to your questions are Yes and Yes.  The City of Chicago has been replacing about 35 miles of water mains a year for several years, but is shooting for 70 miles in 2012.  Keep in mind, there are about 4,200 miles of water main in the city itself.  So yes, it is a city-wide water main replacement program, and an ambitious one by historical standards.  At the same time, the city is starting with the oldest portion of the pipes.  About 900 miles of the city's system are more than a century old, and they're getting replaced first.  As you state, the pipe in front of your house went in the 1880s, so that's 130 years or so.  So yes, my guess is that it is on a high-priority list.

Linda: Thanks, Josh. You're an unlimited and renewable resource of valuable information! 

The City of Chicago Dept. of Water Management is busy scheduling and overseeing all these projects, but they still have some time to help convey just how badly these pipes need to be replaced.  Every repair project has a short "bio" on the city's website, and here's what was going on in the world when Linda's pipe was first installed in 1889.

Linda Goodman

  • Hull House was opened by Miss Jane Addams at 800 S. Halsted, helping hundreds of Chicago immigrants gain a place of self-respect in society. 
  • The first train load of fruit, oranges, left Los Angeles for the east coast. 
  • Benjamin Harrison won the American presidency despite Grover Cleveland’s larger share of the popular vote. 
  • The first concrete reinforced bridge was built. 
  • The Chicago Auditorium opened. President Harrison made a visit. 
  • Charlie Chaplin was born.
Despite the connection with Charlie Chaplin, this pipe, the condition of our water/sewer infrastructure, and the need for investment are no laughing matter.  There's a reason the city had to raise water/sewer rates this year (and will do so again in the next three years); replacing pipes from the Harrison Administration isn't free, and catching up on delayed repairs requires an infusion of revenue.  Hopefully by repairing these pipes now we can reduce leakage going forward, which will deliver cost savings down the road.
So huzzah and pip pip old pipe, thank you for service!


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