What to Expect as Major Water Main Replacement Project Begins in Downtown Bethesda

As featured in Bethesda Magazine 

As work on several major new downtown Bethesda buildings continues, local residents and businesses can expect additional construction in the streets over the next year.

Officials from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) on Thursday detailed what business owners and residents of the Woodmont Triangle area can expect as it begins the second phase of a major water main replacement project.

The phase beginning this month will replace water mains below the downtown district’s busy restaurant and retail corridor, which is also home to large apartment buildings such as Gallery Bethesda, 7770 Norfolk, Triangle Towers, Palisades of Bethesda and Bainbridge Bethesda.

Kevin Lethbridge, a construction management coordinator for WSSC, told local business owners at the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce on Thursday that contractors for the utility will move road section by section through Woodmont Triangle. They will replace mains on Rugby, Auburn, Del Ray, Norfolk, Cordell, St. Elmo, Fairmont and Woodmont avenues.

The utility expects to complete the work in the spring.

The current pipes in the area were installed in the 1920s and 1950s, according to the utility.

Note: The anticipated Phase II start was in the spring, but was pushed back due to delays and is now beginning this month. Chart provided by WSSC. (click to expand)

During the replacement work, construction crews will block parts of streets to dig up the lines, then install new water pipes. Flaggers might be used to guide traffic around the crews. Most of the water main replacement work will take place between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., according to Lethbridge.

As crews work on a road segment, some parking meters on the street will be blocked with bags. Lethbridge said they’ll work with Montgomery County officials to make sure the bags are removed from the meters as soon as the work on that section is completed.

He said residents and businesses will experience water shutoffs of four to eight hours, but only when their building is being “tied-in” to the new pipes. The tie-in process happens when crews connect the water service line on a private property to the new water main beneath the road.

He said this work will be done at night. Properties will be notified 48 hours in advance of the planned water shutoff.

“For larger buildings, we’ll start talking [to property management] well before that,” Lethbridge said. “We don’t want to surprise anyone.”

He said that after new connections are made, there likely will be sediment in the water coming out of the pipes at nearby properties. He encouraged people to flush the water through a bathtub or faucet without a screen until it runs clear. He noted that the sediment is kicked up when water is recharged through the new pipes.

After the water mains are replaced, Lethbridge said WSSC will mill and repave the streets.

He said crews are making saw cuts in the roads to figure out where other utility lines might interfere with the work they’re preparing to do. Then, they’ll begin replacing the pipes.

WSSC has finished water main replacement work in the more residential area north of Battery Lane Park, where the utility has been working since last fall.

As it begins its work in earnest in Woodmont Triangle, Lethbridge said the utility will share its work schedule with Bethesda Urban Partnership, which plans to post the schedule on its website.