Floods Wipe Out Dozens of Roads, Bridges

Mon August 11, 2008 - Midwest Edition
Dorinda Anderson



Months of heavy rains caused several rivers to overflow and break through levees at several locations in the Midwest, flooding 45,000 sq. mi. (4,180 sq m) throughout seven states, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Damages are expected to be in the hundreds of millions, with Iowa being hit the hardest.

On the peak day, June 16, 51 road segments in Iowa were closed, said Dena Gray-Fisher, media marketing manager of the Iowa/DOT. Throughout Iowa, however, 303 bridges, culverts and structures were affected. On the extreme end, whole portions of roadways were washed out, Gray-Fisher said. “In some cases, something else failed and water was then diverted to cause another road to be washed away.

“For example, we had one bridge that was parallel to a railroad bridge that was washed out, causing water to be diverted to the approach of a bridge, thus knocking it out,” she said.

Emergency repairs were made to Iowa/DOT roadways, allowing contractors between 10 and 60 days to complete the projects. “We had 13 road segments that required emergency repairs” so traffic could resume, Gray-Fisher said. “Those projects are progressing very well; they are over half way completed, with only five left to complete.”

The cost of those 13 segments totals approximately $4.4 million.

The only work that would continue past the 60 days are jobs that will require future mitigation because it would need a higher roadway elevation, to avoid issues in future floods, Gray-Fisher said

Bid lettings were held, allowing Iowa contractors to see the extent of damage so they could determine if they could provide enough workers and equipment to make repairs.

Making the repairs has been a challenge because substantial rains of three to four inches, occurs almost everyday, Gray-Fisher said. “As of July 29 the area has received 13 inches of rain over last years totals.” Currently, there are four state roads that are closed because of flooding. Since the roads are so saturated, there is no where for the water to go,” she added.

One contractor, Tkschiggfrie Excavating Co., of Dubuque, Iowa, has completed its three contracts within the 10 and 15 day work allotments. “They had a bid letting on Wednesday and we started counting work days on Monday. So we had to get the paper work into the Iowa/DOT in Ames and work extra time on the projects and make sure that if we had any subcontractors included in the work that they were available to do the work so it was completed on time,” said Dave Kluesner, general superintendent of Tkschiggfrie Excavating.

To ensure the work was completed on time, Tkschiggfrie pulled workers from other jobs to get these done. “We adjusted work schedules on those to accommodate these jobs,” Kluesner said.

The two roadway patching projects Tkschiggfrie worked on in Butler and Chickasaw counties, each required completion within 10 days, while an erosion project in Allamakee County was allowed 15 days for completion.

On the Butler job, which was 1,400 ft. (420 m) long, shoulders were added in order to protect the mainline paving, should future flooding occur, Kluesner said. “If water ever ran over the road again it is hoped it would just take out the shoulders and not the mainline paving.”

Soggy soil created some challenges in stabilizing the soil. “In Butler County we couldn’t seem to get the shoulders stabilized so extra excavation was done and additional materials were hauled in to stabilize the ground. … There was just too much moisture.” Kluesner said. “We were next to a wetland on that project.”

Washout materials were retrieved from the right of way and reused on the Butler project. Excavators, dozers and compacting equipment were required to complete the project. The paving and patching was subbed to Heartland Blacktop who used a widening machine because of the narrowness of the repairs; some areas were 3-ft. wide and some were 6-ft., Kluesner said.

The project in Chickasaw, which was 2,200 ft. (670 m) long, was handled a bit differently. Tkschiggfrie drilled 248 6-in. (15.2 cm) holes through the existing concrete and then filled them with flowable mortar in order to protect the existing paving because the fill material had washed out from under the paving, Kluesner explained. “We didn’t want to have to remove the paving to repair the roadway. … We used a barrel with a spout that sits in the hole to fill each hole. We had three barrels and we kept moving them down the line. The next day we checked the holes and if any were down we refilled them; the job is accomplished once they don’t settle anymore.”

Damages were caused to the Chickasaw roadway because water was allowed to run over it as a means of diverting the water away from a nearby bridge so it wasn’t washed out, Kluesner added.

The project in Allamakee involved placing rip rap to protect a bridge pier that was washed out under a bridge footing on the south end of a bridge. For this project Tkschiggfrie brought in granular material and Class B rip rap. “The affected area was bigger than the plan showed,” Kluesner said. “We added in some 500 tons of granular around the pier and some 6,500 tons of Class B rip rap.

“We had to let some of the excess stream water in to protect that material because the scour area was so large and the water was still directed at the pier. We don’t think the material would have stayed in place if the scour area wasn’t filled in,” he added. Shot rock was used for the stream access.

“We took out about 2,000 tons of material and replaced it with about 6,900 tons of shot rock and 89 loads of clay fill to keep the moisture from going through it when we built it,” Kluesner said.

The north side portion of the bridge project required an extra 1,000 tons (900 t) of granular material and extra rip rap because the erosion was farther back than the plan showed, he said, explaining that with the amount of work to be done in a short time period it was sometimes difficult to accurately determine the full extent of the damages of each project. In this case, the north portion of the bridge project was redesigned after the additional damage was found.

The southern portion of the project had to be complete before work on the north end could begin because there was nothing under the roadway on the south end to stabilize it, and because the materials had to be brought in from the south. Bringing the materials in from the north would have required hauling the materials an additional 18.5 mi. (30 km), Kluesner said.

The Iowa/DOT also has been involved in recovery efforts of several communities that were inundated with water as levies broke or rivers overflowed. Cedar Rapids was one of those communities, as were Oakville and Iowa City. “They had tremendous loses and we are removing debris with our equipment, Gray-Fisher said of the Iowa/DOT. Preceding the rain was a Class 5 tornado in Parkersburg, Iowa, that wiped out half the town and killed a number of people, she said. “It looks like a bomb went off. …While the Dot was cleaning up the debris the flooding started.”

The Iowa/DOT works with the Iowa office of Homeland Security on anything from hauling in a generator to hauling almost 7 million sandbags, she added.

In all, approximately 20,000 residents in Cedar Rapids lost their homes, Gray-Fisher said, and the entire town of Oakville, a community of 439, was lost. There is still water on a large portion of Oakville where approximately 4,000 ft. (1,219 m) of levy washed away and water inundated the community.

When cleaning an area and hauling away debris, a lot of sorting is needed to make sure hazardous materials are handled properly. “We can’t just go in and load up debris and haul it out,” Gray-Fisher said. “The challenge with Oakville is there are no roadways left and so before we could start with recovery we had to rebuild a road so emergency workers could get in and the road could be used to haul out debris.”

But not just highways were affected. Iowa/DOT announced that about 1,000 mi. (1,609 km) of trails were damaged, of which 39 mi. (62 km) sustained major damage, Gray-Fisher said. “One trail by Cedar Rapids that had nice bridges and a paved trail was a total loss at a cost of about $5 million.”

The railroads suffered damage when 17 railroad bridges were either totally or partially washed out. Approximately 600 rail cars were submerged, and major businesses, including Deere & Co., Archer Daniel Midland, and Tyson Foods lost their rail connections, Gray-Fisher said. Transit system facilities in Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Des Moines were lost. “Some were able to get buses out and some were not,” she said.

For almost a month there was no navigation up the Mississippi River, Gray-Fisher said. “All the locks were closed by the Army Corps of Engineers.” In Iowa the barges are necessary to transport commodities such as grain and fertilizer and the loss of this service created a significant loss, she added. So without shipping or rail service for nearly a month product had to be transported by truck on what few main roads were left. “When we had to close Interstate 80 it was difficult for truck traffic to move through eastern Iowa,” she said, they were directed outside of the state.

The 10 levees that were overtopped with water and washed out from behind allowed water to flood the seven states in the Army Corps of Engineers’ Rockford District. These levees run from Dubuque, Iowa, to Saberton, Mo. About a dozen additional levees were overtopped and washed out in the St. Louis Army Corps of Engineers District. “These are the ones eligible for repair,” explains Ron Fournier of the Rock Island District of the Army Corps of Engineers. Each levee will be reviewed to determine if repairs to the previous state are needed or if alternative repairs will be needed.

The levees were earthen levees, meaning they were designed for agricultural protection and not to protect homes and property, Fournier said. The levees will be designed and are constructed by the Corps to meet the standards and the original design heights.

These agricultural levees are constructed as 50-year levees, Fournier said. High water levels have been recorded since the late 1800s. Officials look at how often the water level reached the highest mark and see that that level occurs every 50 years, thus creating the terminology of a 50-year levee.

“That doesn’t mean that high water level won’t be reached for another 50 years,” Fournier said. The majority of the levees are constructed to handle a water level that is 2 percent higher than that highest level; so every year there is a 2 percent chance that the river will raise higher than the highest recorded level.

The damaged levees will be repaired to that 50-year level again, Fournier said.

Fournier explains that a task force made up of federal, state and local agencies was formed and is scheduled to begin meeting by Aug. 1, to conduct a regionally coordinated assessment of the flood damage and address the flooding situation in the upper Midwest. Until damage determinations can be made, damage amounts cannot be assessed. So no funding is in place to make repairs but the Corps will repair what it can with its limited funding.

For example, constructing a temporary levee at Oakville cost $1.1 million. The project took just a few weeks, having started July 3 and being completed July 21. The temporary levee is approximately 6 ft. (1.8 m) lower than the original levee but still required about 62,000 tons (56,200 t) of shot rock and about 292,000 tons (26,490 t) of crushed road surface. It will be raised to the height deemed necessary after the task force study is complete, Fournier said. The temporary levee was needed to stop water from continuing to flood the area.

The goal is to have the permanent repairs to the levees completed by the next flood season, Fournier said. More definite dates will be available once the task force reviews the situation. CEG