Blinding snows that made much of Route 5 in Lackawanna and Hamburg impassable for nearly two days cleared up Wednesday, only to be replaced by another major travel impediment – a small lake in the road, a few hundred feet in diameter and as much as 2½ feet deep.
The flooding diverted most traffic along the quarter-mile stretch of Route 5 near the Lackawanna-Hamburg border all day through other parts of Lackawanna, as city officials, police and Erie County Water Authority crews struggled to figure out what was causing it.
The culprit turned out to be a leak in a six-inch service line to a vacant commercial property on the former Bethlehem Steel property, on the east side of Route 5.
All of the traffic lanes on Route 5 were reopened at about 7:30 p.m., according to Lackawanna police.
Drivers heading toward Buffalo during the day were detoured by Hamburg police onto Lake Avenue, into Blasdell. Commuters going south were warned by police of the high water, and most cars turned around and found an alternative route.
Tractor-trailers and Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority buses were allowed through and had little trouble navigating the water and heavy slush, which was deepest underneath a small railroad bridge in Woodlawn.
On average, about 36,000 vehicles per day use that portion of Route 5.
“It’s a lot of traffic,” said Darrell Kaminski, regional director of the Western New York region of the state Department of Transportation, which maintains Route 5.
The detours Wednesday slowed traffic a little bit in some areas of Lackawanna, in part because National Grid crews also were working inside two manholes near the intersection of Ridge Road and South Park Avenue.
But overall, traffic flowed reasonably well all day, said Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski, who credited plow operators with getting the streets clean early Wednesday.
The flooding, which originally appeared Tuesday night, baffled water crews and police.
An initial test of the water did not show signs of chlorine, an indicator that the water is treated and is from a Water Authority pipe source.
In addition, “early on, the water wasn’t boiling up from underground” – a usual sign of a pipe leak, said Wes Dust, executive engineer for the water authority. “It was just appearing.”
Some observers suggested that an ice jam in Smoke’s Creek, which has been the source of prior flooding in Lackawanna, was the cause.
But Szymanski said that explanation “didn’t make any sense, because the creek isn’t anywhere near the flooding.”
Water Authority crews eventually tested the water again and this time found chlorine in it. And later on, the boiling-up effect occurred.
Workers were able to isolate the location of the leak to a service line on property owned by Great Lakes Industrial Development Corp.
“The cold weather probably had something to do with it,” Dust said.
But when workers went to shut down a valve connecting the service line to a 16-inch main line, they discovered that the valve wouldn’t fully close.
A crew of six to eight workers was working overnight to replace the valve, which is about eight feet under ground.“If the valve wasn’t leaking, we could’ve shut that down and been out of there,” Dust said.
Instead, the main line was to be shut off for a few hours, cutting water service to a handful of businesses.
“There shouldn’t be any residents without water,” Dust said.
With the valve closed, the service line can be repaired at a later date, when the weather improves, Dust added.