Burst main blocks Bay Bridge entry

A heavily used approach to the Bay Bridge was shut down Thursday afternoon after a water main, installed just the day before, broke and left the road with a gaping hole, wreaking havoc on rush-hour drivers and public transit downtown.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission — which installed the 8-inch water main under First Street near Howard Street on Wednesday — expected crews to work through the night and have the heavily trafficked street repaired and reopened by this morning’s commute.

No injuries were reported, officials said.

The break left three buildings without water for hours and snarled traffic during Thursday’s peak evening commute hours.

A one-way thoroughfare, First Street is one of the most heavily used and congested approaches to the Bay Bridge.

First Street between Market and Howard streets was closed to traffic, although buses accessing the Transbay Terminal at First and Mission streets were allowed to pass through.

Drivers heading south on Battery Street and east on Bush Street, which both turn onto First Street, were forced to turn onto Market Street, joining hundreds of other drivers stuck in gridlock.

“I’m cursing myself for going this way — I usually take California Street,” said one driver, as he was diverted onto Market Street.

After the break, which happened sometime before 1 p.m., the ground underneath First Street filled with water, and sand and water quickly began seeping through the road surface, flooding the curbsides.

Utilities workers cut the water supply to the pipes, and a large portion of First Street about three lanes wide, or approximately 20 feet by 30 feet — which had not been repaved after the pipe was installed Wednesday and was still covered with steel plates — collapsed.

“The water was holding the road up,” said Tony Winnicker, spokesman for the SFPUC.

Assistant General Manager of Water Michael Carlin said SFPUC would conduct a “failure analysis” of the pipe and valve, which connected a vacant building on the corner of First and Howard streets to a larger water line.

Winnicker said the owner of the building at 400 Howard St., which connected to the water pipe, had paid the San Francisco Water Department to install the main. He did not immediately have details on how much that work cost or who would pay for repairs.

“The service line failure is not the fault of the building owner, obviously,” Winnicker said. “If the cause is determined to be improper connection or work, then SFPUC would be responsible. If the cause is faulty materials, or external cause, then other parties could ultimately be held liable or partly liable and we would seek to recover monies spent repairing the water lines and street today.”

Examiner Staff Writers Bonnie Eslinger and David Smith contributed to this report.

arocha@examiner.com

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