Philly recycling truck stuck in sinkhole, adding to trash pickup woes

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Sanitation workers in Philadelphia are dealing with coronavirus safety concerns, staffing shortages and the surplus of residential trash generated by so many folks working from home. Sometimes, they also have to dodge sinkholes.

A recycling truck fell into the sidewalk in Port Richmond over the weekend, on a block where work has been ongoing for the better part of a year.

It was Sunday morning when one of the Streets Department trucks got briefly stuck in a small crater on the 3000 block of Livingston Street. It’s the latest episode in the a saga residents say has impacted collection on and off for about a year and a half.

It all started in April 2019, when Philadelphia Gas Works opened a hole in the street to replace the gas main. After that was finished, Philadelphia Water stepped in for some repairs. Ever since, it’s been standard for the street to be halved with a giant hole in the middle.

“Moved to block recently never seen such wild construction apparently they’ve been tearing the block up since 2008!?!” said one reddit user. “Sanitation dept hasn’t even been able to come down here in a month…and this is what they get for trying.”

It’s not the first time something like this has happened. Sinkholes have swallowed city sanitation trucks at least three times in the last decade — in 2014, 2015 and 2019.

Neither PGW or PWD will take responsibility for this weekend’s Livingston Street ditch. The Office of Fleet Management was able to pull it out within a few hours, with no injuries to any staffers or the truck itself, according to city spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco.

Philadelphia Water did send out an inspector to look at the hole, covering it with a steel beam and opening an investigation into how it got so bad.

It appears likely that repair work on the street will last through at least the end of 2020.

PGW closed its Livingston Street pit roughly five months after it first opened, some time around September 2019, per spokesperson Melanie McCottry, who said the recent sinkhole isn’t its responsibility.

Enter Philadelphia Water, which opened a new cavity in January to update the water and sewer mains.

The two departments scheduled the consecutive work purposely in an effort to streamline the process for residents. “What we try to do is coordinate projects together with other agencies if there’s planned work from another agency,” McCottry said. “That utility is supposed to follow directly after.”

But the pandemic required the water repairs to be halted from March to June — leaving a cavern open on the Port Richmond side street, which runs through the River Wards neighborhood a few blocks northwest of I-95.

Philadelphia Water crews returned to work on June 15 to get moving on the project, and spokesperson Laura Copeland said it could take until the end of 2020 to fully wrap up.

Here’s the thing: Copeland said the water work is on the opposite side of the street from the cave-in that trapped the recycling truck.

Still, they’re helping resolve the issue. After the Streets Department let them know about the incident on Sunday, Philadelphia Water covered it with a steel beam so future vehicles don’t suffer the same fate, and opened an investigation into how the road collapsed in the first place.

“In addition, while excavating for the sewer replacement work, our inspector and the contractor will be looking for any holes or cavities and will correct them if found,” Copeland said.

Several Port Richmond residents have expressed frustration — saying the giant hole on their block has stopped sanitation trucks from being able to enter the street.


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