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Water main break located, but no ETA for US 60 reopening in Tempe

Tara Ford said the water main is a steel cylinder pipe and should last 75 years but it was only 50 years old when it broke early Saturday morning.
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 2:58 PM MST
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TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — The water main break has been located but there’s still no estimated time when the U.S. 60 will reopen in Tempe, officials said on Monday. Tara Ford with the City of Tempe said the break was north of the freeway between the pedestrian bridge and the overpass, closer to the offramp near McClintock Drive. The pipe is about 20-22 feet underground. It was originally thought the break was under the freeway since that’s where all the water was.

Officials are trying to figure out how the break could have happened. Ford said the water main is a steel cylinder pipe and should last 75 years but it was only 50 years old when it broke early Saturday morning. “This was very unforeseen,” said Ford. “There was no reason why we thought it would fail with 25 years left on this pipe.”

Tempe officials give an update on water main break that has closed the US 60 near Loop 101 in Tempe

Once the break is isolated, officials will assess what repairs need to be done. Ford said the city doesn’t have an estimated cost. The break shouldn’t be impacting customers. “City of Tempe will focus on mitigating any water leaking through, which we are doing. We are shutting off water in different areas, however, ensuring customers still have water and are not out of water. At this point, we have no residential customers out of water,” Ford said.

Sam Ariaratnam, professor at Arizona State University and construction engineering program chair, says breaks like this are common. “The Water Research Foundation did a study, and they found there was an average of about 25 breaks per 100 miles of water pipeline. So that kind of relates to about 850 breaks per day in North America,” said Ariaratnam.

Ariaratnam says these breaks, unfortunately, happen with these systems. “People think of us as being a young city or a young region, but really it isn’t. I mean, we have water infrastructure lines that are in that 100-plus year life right now,” he told Arizona’s Family on Monday.

Tara Ford with the City of Tempe said the break was north of the freeway between the pedestrian bridge and the overpass.

While it’s still unclear why the line in Tempe ruptured, the professor says there are a number of things that could have happened. “Maybe there was a material issue. It’s a steel cylinder pipe. It could be some corrosion-type issues related to that,” he said.

When transmission mains break, it can be significant. “We do have a lot of breaks of these 6-inch smaller lines, and they can be significant too, but not to the extent of a 24-inch. And that’s why we try to do more regular inspections as possible that you can do with the budgets you have,” Ariaratnam said.

Ford said it’s still unclear when the freeway will be back open and deferred to the Arizona Department of Transportation. The freeway is closed in both directions from Rural Road to Loop 101. Drivers are being asked to consider using side streets or the Loop 202 San Tan or Red Mountain as an alternate route.