A water main dating back to 1895 in San Francisco broke early Friday, causing flooding and water to seep into the Moscone Center and the unfinished MTA subway line, as well as shutting down streets and snarling traffic in the bustling area all day, city officials said.
The 12-inch main break at Howard and Fourth streets was first reported at 2:41 a.m., a fire dispatcher said. A utilities spokesman said crews responded at 3:15 a.m.
The affected water main was pressurized, so crews were struggling with erosion late Friday. The SoMa intersection was expected to reopen by late afternoon, but it is expected to be closed into the night.
Often, age causes water main breaks, but such incidents are more common in colder months, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission officials said.
"The pipe was originally put in in about 1895 so as most folks around the city know we do have aging infrastructure as old as the city," said Suzanne Gautier with the SFPUC.
In fiscal year 2013, crews replaced 6 miles of pipes, while 9 were replaced in 2014, 12 in 2015, and 15 in 2016, Gautier said. However, 53 water main failures have been reported in the first 6 months of this year, with most occuring in January.
"The PUC has taken an aggressive goal of repairing or replacing about 15 miles of pipe per year although clearly we haven’t caught up with all the vulnerable ones," said Suzanne Gautier with the SFPUC.
On Friday, the sound of jackhammers pierced the air as frustrated drivers, like Samuel Gonzalez, tried to maneuver through the gridlock.
He spent over one hour simply trying to get out of San Francisco, so he could get his family home to Fresno, Gonzalez said.
"It's really bad — the kids are hungry, they’re crying," he said.
One commuter spent 30 minutes trying to get out of an area garage while another spent the same amount of time just trying to cross four blocks.
Muni was not affected, according to spokesman Paul Rose.
Water was shut off to about 200 customers in the area, including a senior home, as crews sought to repair the break. But all water service was restored before 8 a.m.
The SFPUC said that many water lines cross the neighborhood, which is why service wasn’t impacted for a long time.
As of Friday evening, drivers were able to turn right off Howard Street, but officials encouraged people to avoid the area because turns are not possible on the opposite side of the road and several blocks in the neighborhood have been impacted.