Raging River on River Road
Ross Contracting, Inc. was established in 1994, with Daniel Ross as President. The company started out as an underground utility contractor, which is still one of the leading strengths of the company. The company has since grown to include excavation, land clearing, demolition, sediment control, storm water management systems, cast in place concrete and asphalt work. Currently the company employs 170 qualified personnel and over 200 major pieces of equipment. The company has performed work on multiple new school projects in and around the metro Washington DC area as well as water and sewer pipe line work, including emergency response for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. In addition the company has completed many other projects for the MD State Highway Administration, and all of the local county jurisdictions.
What started out as a typical cold morning on December 23, 2008 for the Washington DC Metro area commuters, instantly turned into a devastating emergency situation.
At approximately, 8:00 a.m. , while working in a local neighborhood of the greater Washington, DC metropolitan area, installing and replacing water mains, one of our crews heard on WTOP, a local radio station, that a river of water was rushing down River Road in Potomac , Maryland. “We could not believe what we were hearing” stated Mike Ross, a Utility Superintendent for Ross, “and our attention was focused on the radio.” A river of water is rushing down River Rd in Potomac?” As we already know, River Road runs parallel to the nearby Potomac River. Knowing of no possible reason to cause the River to rise and overflow the banks and torrents of water to rush down River Road, we knew something was going terribly wrong. The next report we heard was that people were trapped in their cars and a helicopter rescue is underway. This report confirmed that something was terribly wrong. Either we all stayed up way too late the night before watching a “Deadliest Catch” marathon narrated By Mike Rowe or a catastrophic event had just occurred in Bethesda, MD a suburb of Washington, DC. Local Montgomery County first responders and Montgomery County’s Swift Water Rescue Team had to rescue motorists, trapped, as water, raging like white water rapids, rushed from a broken 66” PCCP (Pre-stressed Concrete Cylinder Pipe) water main. The break was sudden, and very destructive with 150,000 gallons of water per minute rushing from this break. It was described by one motorist that “the road literally exploded”. As quoted by Maryland Governor, Martin O’Malley, “It looks like a bomb went off”. The break left a 30’ x 50’ crater along River Road.
At this point, we knew it had to be a ruptured pipeline. Ross Contracting, Inc. jumped into overdrive. As one of the Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission’s Emergency response contractors, we knew that we had a chance of being chosen to repairing this disaster.
Mike Ross immediately called Daniel Ross, president and owner of Ross Contracting Inc., and told him what was going on and to listen to the radio. He picked up the report from the radio and rerouted his vehicle to head towards Potomac. It took several hours before WSSC was able to get the main shut down, which left many people without water. This impact was quickly lessoned as WSSC was able to isolate the main and restored water to most of the customers that were affected. However River Road was left impassable. Adding insult to injury the water that was rushing out of the pipe line was undermining several large trees that were growing through high voltage electric lines directly over the location of the water main break. We all watched as the trees fell bringing down the wires and snapping the pole they attached to. This only complicated the repair efforts.
At 2:00 p.m. WSSC began the bid process to select a contractor to repair this disaster, and by 4:00 p.m. Ross Contracting, Inc. was awarded the project. Ross began immediately to mobilize equipment to the site. Having just purchased a brand new Cat 328D excavator. It was the first machine brought on site to start repairs on the ruptured 66” water main. The 328D was the perfect machine because of its compact swing radius, long reach and heavy lifting capacity.
River Road, though only a two lane road, is a very busy and effluent road in the Washington Metro Area. The impact of having this major State Highway shut down was going to be felt by many and had to be rectified fast! Within 24 hours, we had a fleet of over 20 pieces of equipment mobilized to the site and multiple crews working to clear the area of the water main break and to start restoring the devastation caused by one of the worst water main breaks in the history of Maryland. This water main break made local, national, and world headlines. The break was even featured in a series on the History Channel, The Crumbling of America, which focuses on America’s failing infrastructure.
A brief description of the scope of the work included removing and replacing 4 joints of 66” PCCP; installing several thousand tons of stone and dirt to back both sides of the road that were washed out; working with the gas company, Washington Gas, to rewrap and backfill under and around approximately 200 feet of an existing 18” high pressure gas main that was washed out; cleaning approximately 200 truck loads mud and debris out of Cabin John Creek; and repaving the road. A project such as this would typically have taken two or three months to complete, but that amount of time was not an option. Through the dedication of Ross Contracting’s employees, who worked around the clock from 4:00 pm on December 23, 2008 to 2:00 am on January 1, 2009, cancelling holiday vacations and family plans were the backbone to getting the repair completed in a short nine days time.
Caterpillar Equipment and our local Cat dealer, Alban Cat, both played a vital role in this effort. From the Cat 328D and 330D excavators digging out and setting new pipe, the two Cat D5G’s working the backfill and grading the edges of the roads, to the Cat 655D laying new asphalt, and not to mention all the Cat diesel engines powering our fleet of dump trucks to haul the materials in and out of the project, all performed flawlessly. Cat and Alban have always played an integral part in the work Ross Contracting, Inc. performs, since its inception in 1994. The quality and reliability of Caterpillar products, as well as the personal attention from Cat’s local sales, service, and product support teams, have made the purchasing of Cat equipment, an easy decision over and over again.
To view the extent of this disaster, we welcome you to Google “River Road Water main Break”. There you will find numerous newspaper reports and videos from the Washington Post, The Gazette Community News, as well as You Tube footage of rescue and devastation.
Thankfully, no one was hurt, as the result of this massive water main break. This disaster was a prime example of the private, local, public and state agencies working together to remediate the situation and devastation , and get the community up and running again.