A hole big enough to swallow a dozen trash trucks will suck more than $100,000 from the city budget.
During Tuesday night's weekly meeting, commissioners approved paying outside contractors up to $102,000 for work on the stubborn hole at the intersection of North Second and Locust streets, just north of the Kansas River bridge.
The resolution approved by commissioers provided only for outside work, not the time and materials expended by city crews.
"The point is, we need these funds to pay for what's going on up there," City Manager Mike Wildgen said. "It's an emergency situation."
City workers still haven't figured out what caused a storm sewer pipe to burst beneath the road -- leaving rushing rainwater to erode a hole 40 feet long, 30 feet wide and 20 feet deep -- but they do know what needs to be done, said George Williams, public works director.
A contractor needs to shore up the hole, then let crews dig out tons of refill sand, reconnect two water lines and refill the hole again.
Northbound traffic will remain detoured until repairs are complete, hopefully by July 4, Wildgen said.
"I think we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," Williams said.
Commissioner Jo Andersen thanked city crews for "saving North Lawrence," but said the city should look beyond the immediate problem and consider increasing money available for maintaining storm sewers.
As part of continuing budget discussions, commissioners will consider adding another utility fee for storm-sewer maintenance.
"If it can happen once, the possibility's there it can happen again," she said this morning. "These lines are getting old, and they're not that reliable."
City crews discovered the North Lawrence hole June 3. Williams said the biggest problem was finding the end of the broken pipe.
"The hole kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger," he said.
Workers eventually plugged the broken line, then backfilled the hole with sand. The next step is shoring up the hole by driving two, 5/8-inch-thick Z-shaped sheets of steel into the sand-filled area.
Once the lines are reconnected, the hole refilled and road repaved, Williams said, workers can look forward to something that has been out of reach for three weeks: normalcy.
He said the city was lucky nobody got hurt because of the hole, considering nothing was supporting traffic except a layer of concrete 9 inches thick.
"We were extremely lucky," Williams said. "I don't have any idea how long it had been there."