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City Howl Help Desk: Turning off the Boulevard-extension waterfall

THE PROBLEM: Some days Sgt. Paul Sprigg takes his motorcycle to work. He cruises down the Roosevelt Boulevard Extension on his way home, skirting traffic and tasting the breeze.

THE PROBLEM: Some days Sgt. Paul Sprigg takes his motorcycle to work. He cruises down the Roosevelt Boulevard Extension on his way home, skirting traffic and tasting the breeze.

But for the last two months, when he approached the part of the highway that runs underneath the Broad Street Line overpass, he'd brace himself.

There they were, two constant torrents of water, apparently coming from the subway platform, splashing cars and creating traffic jams as commuters tried to navigate the downpour. Sprigg could escape the deluge in a few seconds. But he'd leave drenched.

Jeff Laughlin, another commuter who knew the leak from the Broad Street Line well (he called it "the Waterfall"), said it was like a garden hose that had been left on. The water would crash into his windshield, he said.

"It's a little disconcerting to have the water hit your windshield like that when you're traveling at 50 or 60 miles per hour."

Laughlin didn't call the city to report the problem until he spoke with Help Desk. He figured that since the leak was on such a major road, either someone would have reported it already or someone from the city would have noticed it.

MYSTERY LEAK? The Roosevelt Boulevard Extension, where the water was splashing down, is the responsibility of the state Department of Transportation.

But the water was coming from the Broad Street Line, which is maintained by SEPTA. And, of course, the Philadelphia Water Department is responsible for various water-related infrastructure in the city. Whose water was this?

When Help Desk called PennDOT last week, spokesman Gene Blaum said he wasn't sure of the source of the problem, but the agency has scheduled a meeting with SEPTA and the Water Department for this week to determine the cause of the leak and seek a solution.

He also said traffic controllers were reporting the leak had stopped.

The next day, we heard from SEPTA.

According to spokeswoman Jerri Williams, they had identified the problem: The Broad Street Line's storm- sewer pipes were clogged, causing storm water to pool in the tracks above the highway rather than flow through the sewer. A crack in the overpass acted as a drain, allowing the water to flow onto the extension. If it weren't for the crack, Williams said, SEPTA probably would have identified the problem more quickly, because the tracks would have been overflowing with water. Fortunately, our friends at Fox 29 had reported on the problem.

The fix was relatively simple. SEPTA uses a vacuum to clear out sewer pipes once a year, which is usually enough. These pipes had last been vacuumed six months ago. Due to the leak, maintenance used the vacuum last week to unclog the pipes. The good news for Laughlin and Sprigg is that the water was storm water. They were worried that taxpayers would have to foot the bill for the leak.

SAY SOMETHING! It's worth noting that Laughlin didn't report the leak because he felt certain someone else already had. But that wasn't necessarily true. Both he and Sprigg reported driving through the leak for about two months, but PennDOT and SEPTA said they thought the problem had existed for only a few weeks.

Williams said that as soon as SEPTA discovered the problem, it took action. So speak up! (And if your problem doesn't get fixed quickly, tell us about it.)

HELP-DESK UPDATE: Two weeks ago, we wrote about a sinkhole at 54th and Pine. The Water Department initially placed a metal plate over the hole, but the hole kept growing.

Frustrated neighbors waited for months, unsure if the hole would ever be fixed.

But one of those neighbors, Shirley Pickens, told Help Desk on Monday that the repair was practically done. It took about a week and involved digging up the street, Pickens said, but now, only the finishing touches to the street remain to be done.

Have a concern about city services? Let us know at, email or call 215-854-5855. And follow us on Twitter! @phillyhowl.