The world moved on, but the Big Hole – yes, it even had a name with capital letters – lives on in Columbus folklore.
Dave Bush was on his way to work at City Hall on July 9, 1986, when Broad Street opened up in front of the LeVeque Tower.
“I don’t think it took 10 seconds,” Bush said this week. “When you think of how busy that area can be, the timing of the lights and everything, that there were not more people in that hole is fortunate.”
Here’s what happened: Two 100-year-old brick sewer lines had given way underground, and a 40-foot-by-30-foot section of the road between Front and High streets had nothing to support it.
Bush, then a budget analyst and now the city’s assistant finance director, said he saw the pavement cracking and dust rising. Then he heard a sucking sound as the entire section of roadway fell almost in once piece.
It was 8:15 a.m.
Michael Schmidt, a 29-year-old lawyer, was on his way to work at the Huntington Center. He slowed his 1986 Mercedes-Benz 190E as the hole opened up in front of him.
He swerved, Bush said, and his car fell in. It flipped once and landed on its wheels. Schmidt climbed out of the hole unhurt.
Asked that day whether he had been through anything worse, he replied: “Well, I took the bar exam.”
He later helped promote seat-belt use and sought nothing more from the city than reimbursement for his insurance deductible, a loaner car and dry-cleaning for his suit: a total of $464.30.
“Talk about your heart in your throat,” Rinehart said. “‘Mayor, we’ve just lost a gold Mercedes in a hole on Broad Street, and it belongs to a lawyer.’ I’m glad he wasn’t a personal-injury lawyer.”
John Remy, then a news reporter for WCOL-AM, spent the day sharing news of Columbus’ giant sinkhole with the world. Photos of people peering into the hole, a dented luxury car at its bottom, ran in newspapers worldwide.
Two days later, the Big Hole was drawing crowds.
“It was unusual to begin with,” said Remy, now spokesman for the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio. “And it was a Mercedes. It might have been different if it were a Dodge or something.”
It took 13 days, 51 workers, 1,838 hours and more than $100,000 to fix.
The Big Hole resulted in more inspections and maintenance for the city’s aging sewer system. The city soon would rebuild sewer lines along High Street from Nationwide headquarters to the Franklin County Courthouse. Sewers were rebuilt along Front Street from Gay Street to the Brewery District.
“It came as a total shock,” said Mike Long, who ran the utilities department during Rinehart’s time in office. “Nobody that I knew was talking about that happening.”
Today, inspection and maintenance efforts include cameras, lasers and sonar to determine whether sewer pipes have deteriorated more rapidly than expected. Dax Blake, the current sewer division administrator for the Columbus Public Utilities Department, said officials soon will revise maintenance priorities based on the latest assessment.
Last month, the city was handed a reminder that holes happen.
A 6-foot wide, 7-foot deep sinkhole opened up on Broad Street in front of the Rhodes Tower.
It wasn’t caused by a sewer collapse, Blake said. Officials haven’t determined the cause.
Despite the newest street chasm, city officials say we’re unlikely to see anything like the Big Hole again.
“We’re rooting out and finding where these situations exist before they become a catastrophe,” Blake said.
The division will spend $13.5 million this year and next to inspect, clean and fix almost 165,000 feet of sewer lines. The entire system is checked every five to seven years.
What are the chances of a Big Hole II?
“I hope it’s zero,” Blake said.