Home Events + News Why Are Sinkholes Happening? A Brief Hoboken History

Why Are Sinkholes Happening? A Brief Hoboken History

by Erin Lanahan
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On Friday, June 14th, a sinkhole opened up in Hoboken on Sinatra Drive along the waterfront. While it wasn’t big enough to stop traffic, the opening was larger than your average pothole. It’s not the first time the ground opened in Hoboken, and it raises some questions about why this keeps happening in the Mile Square City. Read on to learn about previous sinkholes in Hoboken and why they happen.

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^ The sinkhole from June 14th. Photo Credit: @brendanjdrury

What Is A Sinkhole?

A sinkhole is defined by the USGS as, “a depression in the ground that has no natural external surface drainage.” It’s usually caused by erosion. In Hoboken, it tends to happen when water, such as rainwater, flood waters, or water from a mainline break, has nowhere to go and the pressure breaks the surface.

Professor George Korfiatis at Stevens Institute of Technology says these sinkholes are common in city settings. He says aging underground infrastructure plays a big role in these kinds of incidents.

When an underground pipe springs a leak, or bursts, he says the water pressure, “erodes the surrounding soil and carries it away, leaving behind a void in the subsurface.” That void can grow to a size that the surface, or “roof of the void,” cannot support, and it collapses, thus creating a sinkhole.

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“There is nothing unique about the Hoboken waterfront that causes sinkholes,” George told The Hoboken Girl.  “Although the influence of rising and falling river tides on the groundwater levels below Sinatra Drive may, under certain circumstances, be a contributing factor.”

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Yes, Some Are Natural. But Are Some Sinkholes Human-Formed?

The USGS, or United State Geological Survey, is a United States Department of the Interior project that shares where in the US is most common to have naturally-occurring sinkholes which you can view here.

On its website, it shows where certain rock types are susceptible to dissolution in water occurring throughout the country. “In these areas, the formation of underground cavities can form, and catastrophic sinkholes can happen. These rock types are evaporites (salt, gypsum, and anhydrite) and carbonates (limestone and dolomite). Evaporite rocks underlie about 35 to 40 percent of the United States, though in many areas they are buried at great depths.”

However, the USGS goes on to say that some sinkholes can be human-induced.

“New sinkholes have been correlated to land-use practices, especially from groundwater pumping and from construction and development practices. Sinkholes can also form when natural water-drainage patterns are changed and new water-diversion systems are developed. Some sinkholes form when the land surface is changed, such as when industrial and runoff-storage ponds are created,” USGS experts shared.

“The substantial weight of the new material [buildings] can trigger an underground collapse of supporting material, thus causing a sinkhole.”

 

 

Sinkholes’ History In Hoboken

It’s not the first time residents have seen a sinkhole in Hoboken. Before this one in June 2024, the most recent sinkhole was in the summer of 2023. A sinkhole opened while crews were working on water main lines in the area of Third Street and Park Avenue.

Most memorably for longtime Hoboken residents, in the fall of 2010, a large sinkhole opened on Sinatra Drive, measuring 50 feet long, 25 feet wide, and eight feet deep, per NJ.com. Due to the size of the sinkhole, Hudson County police officers were on a 24-hour watch to keep residents safe.

Additionally, in February of 2017, a sinkhole swallowed an SUV. A video posted by The Weather Channel shows crews pulling the vehicle out of the gaping hole. No one was inside and no injuries were reported, according to the post.

On Friday afternoon, June 14th, a sinkhole opened on Sinatra Drive along the Waterfront Walkway after a thunderstorm crashed through Hudson County. Crews shut down this street between Seventh and Ninth Streets to make necessary repairs over the weekend.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Future Plans

Since Hoboken is right along the water, the City has protocols in place to minimize sinkhole damage and protect residents. When this sinkhole opened in mid-June, the Department of Climate + Innovation says they worked with city engineers and emergency response teams to secure the area.

“Hoboken continues to invest in various infrastructure projects, which include road repaving and proactive water main repairs. Within the last six years, the City replaced almost five miles of water mains and plans to replace five more miles of water mains by 2034,” according to Hoboken’s Communications Manager, Marilyn Baer.

The ultimate goal is to prevent incidents, like sinkholes, from happening and disrupting services for residents. They have also repaved some roads in 2023 and 2024, but there’s still work to be done.

“We prioritize proactive measures like water main replacements, road resurfacing, and more to mitigate potential issues,” Marilyn says. The Sinatra Drive Redesign Project is one of those projects. The plan is to utilize green infrastructure and Vision Zero upgrades to improve safety and access along the waterfront.

The City says its response to sinkholes is “systemic and effective by securing the area, conducting thorough inspections, and sharing updates online,” such as the Nixle alert that went out over the weekend or their construction website.

The Hoboken Girl is told the final plan includes repaving the road, a two-way protected bike lane from Fourth Street to Sinatra Drive North, safer street crossings, over 160 trees planted, and more parking space. Right now, it’s awaiting final approvals by the New Jersey State Government.

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Professor George Korfiatis, additionally, shared with The Hoboken Girl, “Better maintenance of the underground pipe infrastructure and quick leak detection could help [Hoboken].”

He adds making sure the City responds quickly in cases where residents report water flows through cracks in concrete or asphalt roadways will be crucial.

To report a sinkhole in New Jersey, call the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) 24-hour hotline at 1-877-WARNDEP (1-877-927-6337).

Follow @thehobokengirl on Instagram and TikTok for all of the latest Hoboken and Jersey City news, and sign up for our newsletter that shares all of our top stories to your inbox here.

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