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Crack on force main accelerates needed replacement project

Veronica Brezina



The San Martin Bridge, in Pinellas County's Riviera Bay neighborhood. Image: GoogleMaps.

A leak on the 50-year-old force main running through the Riviera Bay area is speeding up the timeline for a major infrastructure undertaking to replace and update the entire line. 

One month ago, a pedestrian reported a visible crack in the 24-inch force main that runs along the east side of the San Martin Bridge. City staff acted quickly, slowing the water flow to examine the crack and apply a repair clamp. 

“One of the things is that when we have a project like this in real-time, we are trying to communicate what we plan on doing. When the pipe broke, we were fearful that the crack was going to travel further upstream from the pipe,” Claude Tankersley, public works administrator, said during a Sept. 7 St. Petersburg City Council meeting. 

He said the team immediately took action in sealing the section. Staff believes the pipe broke due to contact with a piece of concrete.

There isn’t soil or any barrier compacted around the pipe. Overtime, the exposure to the concrete has essentially “drilled a hole.” 

The crack in the force main. All images: City of St. Petersburg documents.

The force main, which was installed in the 1980s, originates at Lift Station 63 and is fed by eight upstream lifts. The force main moves 2 million gallons of wastewater, serving 20,000 residents per day. 

While addressing the crack, the team simultaneously hired a consultant to study the effectiveness of the entire line. 

Ivy Drexler, the new senior water resources manager of wastewater operations at the city, said the commissioned assessment showed there was little loss of pipe thickness, which means there wasn’t an immediate threat of the crack spreading. Although, it would be in the city’s best interest to expedite the process of a line replacement.  

The force main replacement is included in the city’s Fiscal Year 2025 budget as part of the San Martin Bridge replacement project; however, the incident was a warning bell signaling more issues may surface before the initial project start date. The department now plans to start the project as soon as possible. 

The existing San Martin Bridge will be replaced with a new similar structure that will shift to the east of the existing bridge. There will be two 11-foot travel lanes and two seven-foot buffered bike lanes, according to county documents. 

The green and red sections of the project to replace the force main and make changes. 

The city has currently budgeted $3.2 million for the “red portion” of the project to replace portable water and sanitary sewer lines that will be affected by the bridge replacement. 

Currently, the team is working with the county on receiving estimates for the “green portion,” which is considered an extension to the preexisting force main.  

The green segments of the force main could be funded in 2025, as they are not as detrimental as the original scheduled project.  

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    September 14, 2023at3:54 pm

    I am happy that bicycle lanes will be a part of the new project. The current bridge is so narrow and feels unsafe for bicycle riders sharing the road especially since it is also difficult to see very far ahead due to the curves.

  2. Avatar

    Bill Herrmann

    September 13, 2023at2:27 pm

    Properly installed and maintained, a force main should have a 75-100 year life. This main is being replaced way too early! “Someone” at the top of City government should be asking why wasn’t the problem discovered and remedied before the failure? The pipe appears to have been recently painted… …

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