DC Water unsure when 3rd Street Tunnel will reopen after water main break

DC Water said it doesn’t know how long it will take to repair a water main break that closed the 3rd Street Tunnel in Northwest earlier this week. That means commuters could be in for more traffic headaches during rush hour Tuesday morning — or longer.

At a news conference Monday night, David Gadis, CEO of DC Water, said crews have identified which of three water mains that run along the tunnel ceiling broke, but they have not isolated the exact location of the break.

When asked by reporters if the tunnel could be closed for days while crews searched for the break, Gadis said, “I don’t know at this point in time to be honest with you.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser urged drivers “to avoid this area entirely until we are able to open the roads.”

Bowser tweeted that New York Avenue Northwest between 1st and 5th Streets Northwest, as well as New Jersey Avenue Northwest between K and M Streets Northwest and adjacent side streets, should be avoided at least through the morning rush hour.

In addition to the street closures, DC Water had to shut off water to several buildings, with 368 units affected. But on 8 p.m. Monday, DC Water tweeted that it had restored water to all of its customers, and that road repair work was continuing.

Gadis would not say how long repairs would take or what caused the water main break. He only confirmed that the 3rd Street Tunnel will be closed at least for Monday night.

“Our main thing that we wanted to do at this point in time is to make sure … all of [our customers] have water. We are now focusing on where the break is at,” Gadis said.

The problem was originally thought to be a sinkhole, but John Lisle of DC Water told WTOP that water came down the tunnel walls and compromised the roadway, breaking up the asphalt in some places.

Earlier Monday, Assistant Chief Jeffrey Carroll of D.C. Police told WTOP that officers responded to the tunnel for a report of flooding.

“As a result, it was discovered that the roadway in the tunnel was starting to buckle a bit,” Carroll said, noting that the closure caused significant traffic delays downtown.

Commuters could see a repeat of those delays depending on how long the tunnel and surrounding streets remain closed.

According to WTOP’s Dave Dildine, the water leak was in the Air Rights Tunnel — informally part of the 3rd Street Tunnel system — and that portion is closed both ways.

Bowser said there may be a partial reopening of the tunnel depending on how the work goes, but that safety is the top priority.

She said an initial review by the D.C. Department of Transportation did not find any structural issues with the tunnel itself, although authorities are still examining the roadways and will complete a more comprehensive review to ensure the safety of the tunnel.

The mayor used the occasion to stress the importance of fixing the country’s aging water infrastructure.

“This is an example of when that infrastructure fails, the ripple effects that it can have.”

Below is a map of the impacted area.

WTOP’s Rick Massimo, Nardos Mesmer, Dave Dildine and Acacia James contributed to this report.

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Anna Gawel

Anna Gawel joined WTOP in 2020 and works in both the radio and digital departments. Anna Gawel has spent much of her career as the managing editor of The Washington Diplomat, which has been the flagship publication of D.C.’s diplomatic community for over 25 years.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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