GAITHERSBURG, Md. - Maryland State Highway officials are now warning drivers it could take several weeks to repair the I-270 sinkhole, leading to traffic congestion from the construction and land closures through mid-July.
"It’s killing us," said Tim Coffman, owner of Coffman Recycling Service out of Frederick, Maryland. Coffman says the company recycles concrete, brick, and asphalt and delivers the aggregate to various projects using I-270 and 70 to do so.
Coffman tells FOX 5 that his deliveries have been impacted, and the company is losing a significant amount of money sitting in traffic when fuel is $6 a gallon.
"The biggest thing today was I drive past the sinkhole and there’s no one working. I understand traffic situations when there’s roadwork but when you just have cones around obstruction on the highway and there’s no one working, that’s unacceptable," Coffman said. "The state of Maryland is a great state. They have many resources. They have more machinery and manpower than any company in this area. They need to get out and do something about this."
The issue caused some 5 miles of back-up around the Gaithersburg area the first morning commute after the sinkhole emerged. Authorities first reported the sinkhole last Wednesday on southbound I-270 before I-370 and just south of Muddy Branch Road.
Repair work immediately closed the highway’s two right lanes.
The sinkhole formed after an underground corrugated drainage pipe failed. Crews stuck a camera down that pipe last Thursday to assess the damage and were seen cleaning grass and branches on the side of the highway to get to the bottom of the pipe.
Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration Spokesperson Charlie Gischlar referred to this issue as the system showing its age.
"This was a corrugated pipe. We did get a lot of rain the other night and thankfully, it was held to the right shoulder and into the right lane a little bit," Gischlar explained. "We think we have it contained so at this point, we don't need to take any more lanes. We're hoping we can go ahead and initiate this repair quickly and get lanes open as soon as possible -- at least one, if not both."
Gischlar tells FOX 5 via email on Thursday:
"MDOT SHA has successfully set up concrete barrier to enhance the safety of the workers on the emergency pipe repair. The concrete barrier took the place of the plastic cones and barrels that were in place when the pipe issue was first discovered. Drivers are reminded to closely focus while traveling through work zones. Crews have excavated the area and have identified a matching section of pipe located in another part of the region. Crews are hoping to have the new section of pipe at the location today. Crews will then tie the new pipe to the existing pipe and backfill the area with stone and soil. This area will also need to be compacted to ensure a stable repair. Then crews will resurface the top section where surface damage occurred."
Approximately 190,000 vehicles on average use this section of I-270 each day, officials say.
SHA hopes school letting out for the summer and Montgomery County adjusting signal timing will help ease traffic pains.
Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation adjusted timing on three roadways to account for increase traffic on side streets: 355/Frederick Rd., Great Seneca Highway and MD 117 S.
Ride On bus isn’t even touching I-270. The bus will also be bypassing the construction for the next few weeks.
County and state authorities as asking drivers to please use caution driving through the area and to avoid it if possible.