This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 24, 2014.
A water main break shut down Rockville Pike for about three hours Friday morning, as frigid temperatures froze the water and turned the busy commuter road into an ice rink.
At 5:15 p.m., Jerry Irvine, a spokesman for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, said crews were still working to fix the break and one southbound lane of Rockville Pike remained closed so crews could work on the break, which is on a property next to the road.
Irvine said this type of repair would typically take six to eight hours, but repair crews had trouble getting a valve to shut off. They eventually had to move to another valve and shut the water off further on down the line.
At the time, Irvine said he expected repairs to take another four to six hours.
A 16-inch water main broke sometime around 3 or 3:30 a.m. near the intersection with Edson Lane in the White Flint area, Irvine said. At about 5 a.m., county police closed the road in both directions due to the ice on the road.
State Highway Administration and WSSC crews salted the roads and cleared the ice from the northbound lanes by about 8:20 a.m. Two of the southbound lanes reopened at about 10:30 a.m., according to WSSC’s Twitter feed.
A group of 30 to 40 townhomes and a shopping center with four or five businesses are expected to be without water for most of the day, Irvine said.
The break was likely due to the cold snap that hit the area Tuesday, Irvine said. The air temperature dropped then — the mercury plunged into the single digits Friday morning — but it takes longer for the water temperature to catch up. Irvine said the water that WSSC is pulling out of the Potomac River is now about 33 degrees.
“When that water runs through these older pipes, it can cause breaks,” he said, adding that the water main that broke Friday was installed in 1951, and 50 years old seems to be a tipping point for pipes in this area. He also attributed the trouble getting the valve shut off to aging infrastructure, saying that many of the valves are just as old as the pipes.
Irvine said WSSC saw a similar pattern of breaking pipes when the polar vortex dipped into the region in early January: First the cold air moves in, and then, a day or so later, pipes start bursting.
The unseasonably cold weather is forecast to linger through the end of the month.
“We expect to see a spike in breaks over the next week,” he said.