Unprecedented rainfall throughout every week of March and every hour of March 30 and 31 caused two major rivers to reach record levels, overflowing their banks.
In like a lion, out like a lamb? Boy, did Mother Nature reverse that at the end of March in Rhode Island.
Local construction companies have been shoring up bridges, approaches to bridges, highways, roads, drains and culverts after record rainfall flooded Rhode Island and caused it to live up to its nickname, the Ocean State.
“We don’t have total amounts of the damage yet. There are still 10 areas we have left to assess,” said Charles St. Martin, spokesman of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT). “We haven’t put a million dollar figure on it, yet. It’s difficult to assess the price, but we’re in the millions without too much trouble.”
Martin admitted, however, there has been $3.5 million in FEMA aid requested by home owners and small business owners in Rhode Island (as of April 30), along with $3 million in emergency flood aid already granted from Washington, D.C. This goes along with some $35 million of similar flood damage aid requests in nearby Massachusetts.
Unprecedented rainfall throughout every week of March and every hour of March 30-31 — with certain sections of the state receiving 8 in. or more over a 56-hour period — caused two major rivers to reach record levels, overflowing their banks. This forced the closure of several miles of Rte. 95 in the Cranston/Warwick area for days. Dozens of smaller roads all over the state were closed for varying lengths of time as well.
In total, on Wednesday, March 31, 98 roads and 20 bridges were closed by flooding. Nine days later, 15 roads and bridges remained shut down, with many already under repair. About 150 maintenance crews and 50 engineering crews were working around the clock to get all of Rhode Island’s roads and bridges back open.
Residents of more than 1,200 homes were forced to evacuate, especially in low-lying areas of Warwick, West Warwick, Westerly and Cranston.
“Mostly it has been roadway erosion, taking place at the approaches to bridges. Most bridges are okay, but many approaches to those bridges have eroded out,” said St. Martin. “There were roadway washouts because of culverts which were overwhelmed with the amount of water coming over the top. Those culverts were never designed for that volume of water.”
Companies Who Helped
According to RIDOT, the following local contracting companies were continually working with the state on flood-related repairs at the end of April. St. Martin said this only represents contractors approved to do work.
“Some of these contractors have more than one location/repair. We have others in the pipeline for approval,” he added. “We did no shoring, mostly earthwork, drainage and culvert repair, resurfacing and minor bridge work. We will do more extensive bridge work for those that were irreparably damaged.”
The companies who have stepped in include:
• Aetna Bridge
• Cardi Corporation
• Northeast Tree
• Lucena Brothers
• DiGregorio Corporation
• JH Lynch
According to RIDOT, the staggering number of closed state roads and bridges slowly reopened after crews spent weeks forcing water to recede from the area. “There are many, many other local road closures that we were not set up to report,” added St. Martin.
Two Hundred Year Storm
The record-breaking rainfall exceeded all other numbers in Rhode Island since rain records were first jotted down
“It rained all of March,” said St. Martin. “There was heavy rain after heavy rain; then, March 30 and 31, there was really heavy rain. Just before St. Patrick’s Day, the Pawtuxet River broke its all-time record, by cresting at 15 feet. Two weeks later, after the heavy stuff of March 30-31, that record was broken by six feet. It crested over 21 feet. They estimate it was a ’200-year storm.’ Talk about rarely occurring conditions. All of our infrastructure is not designed for that.”
All of the companies that RIDOT works with regularly were called out during the storms, he added.
“Obviously, it was an all-emergency situation. The goals were to get the roads safe — emergency forces, bridge inspections, assess the flooding, drainage, pumping and rerouting.
“In some cases, we had to wait until the rivers had subsided,” said St. Martin. “Colebrook Road in Little Compton…that was an area where two drains and two culverts failed, and the road failed with it.”
Companies had to dig in and excavate old materials, he added, and then pump out the water. This sometimes took days.
“The water was so high, we actually rerouted the streams and the road,” said St. Martin. “Pump out and reroute.”
Companies did the same thing at the Exeter Country Club.
“The water levels were so high, we had to pump and divert the water and put new culverts in. There was just so much water to deal with,” he said.
Flooded With Web Hits
RIDOT also “weathered” the Flood of 2010 by using its Web site, www.dot.ri.gov, as well as its Facebook and Twitter sites to share immediate information about road closures.
The numbers of users was astronomically high and officials said that this illustrates the importance of web and social media tools.
An average daily number of visitors on the RIDOT Web site is 2,100. At the height of the storm on March 31, RIDOT’s website saw 83,891 hits.
“When RIDOT got into social media in January 2009 the department never expected to use this tool for flood information,” said RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis. “What we experienced over the last few weeks shows just how important it is to use these tools to provide real time information to motorists.”
“This was a good test of social media,” added St. Martin. “We constantly updated the lists of closed roads.”
In the first week after flooding, RIDOT’s communications team updated the storm web page more than 50 times. Public response has been overwhelmingly positive with many postings expressing gratitude for the help.
The Future for Now
In mid-April, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that he was making $3 million in emergency relief funds immediately available to Rhode Island to make urgent road repairs.
“The recent record flooding in Rhode Island has hit the state very hard,” said LaHood in a statement. “I’m pleased that the department was able to act quickly and we will continue to work with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to assess the damage.”
The $3 million will help Rhode Island repair and reconstruct six key bridges that are closed, including the Laurel Avenue Bridge in Coventry and the Douglas Avenue (Route 7) Bridge in North Providence. The quick release funds also will go toward the inspection and monitoring of more than 180 bridges throughout the state that were damaged by the flooding.
“Quick release funds will give Rhode Island a financial boost to focus on areas that require immediate attention after the flooding,” Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez said. “Getting these bridges and roads back in shape will help people get back to their daily routines.”
By early-May, St. Martin noted that most bridges were safe, but two faced an uncertain future.
“The Laurel Avenue Bridge in Coventry has to be repaired. We were concerned it would be collapsed in the middle of the storm,” he said. “We plan for a demolition soon and to fast track a replacement.”
At press time, 71 of the affected roads and bridges had been reopened to traffic.
New Construction Season
RIDOT was undeterred by the epic floods, however, launching its annual construction season with receding water on highways as a backdrop.
RIDOT construction crews will be out in full force this summer, undertaking several infrastructure improvement projects throughout the state.
These include: the replacement of the Pawtucket River Bridge, which carries I-95 northbound and southbound over the Pawtucket River; and Contract 13 for the Iway, which includes the demolition of the old I-195 and its embankment in Providence.
RIDOT also will make other improvements including enhancing the sidewalks and the riding surface on Route 114 (South Main Street) in Warren; upgrading the state’s bike and pedestrian path network through landscaping improvements at the Blackstone Bikeway in Lincoln, North Smithfield and Woonsocket; and upgrading the signing on Route 37 in Warwick and Cranston and Route 10 in Cranston and Providence.
All Rhode Islanders in need of flood disaster assistance should register with FEMA at www.fema.gov or 1-800-621-3362 (TTY 1-800-462-7585).