Much of Pennsylvania has seen the wettest year on record, resulting in significant amounts of flooding and landslides throughout the state. As a result, in mid-September, PennDOT was
estimating more than $105 million in damages to state-maintained roads and bridges — the highest cost in any single year in the past 10 years.
Historically, flooding and landslide costs have been accounted for through our maintenance or construction-project process except for emergencies or other significant events. The nature of flooding and emergencies this year has been such that they are beyond our typical practices in responding to flooding/landslides so we have had more events warranting emergency assistance.
For comparison, damages from Hurricane Irene in August 2011 amounted to less than $19 million, and Tropical Storm Lee later that year caused just under $68 million in damages.
Of course, this means additional, unplanned costs. As we continue to review the damages and costs, we are pursuing federal highway and emergency funding, though it takes time to receive any funds we will receive.
To help prepare for future extreme weather, the department conducted an Extreme Weather Vulnerability Study, which analyzed past PennDOT flooding-related data, traffic volumes, federal and national weather and flooding resources, and more. It also identified roadways susceptible to flooding based on that data.
The study also projected potential future flooding vulnerabilities in Allegheny, Delaware, and Lycoming counties. The completed study was shared with planning partners, PEMA, federal highway officials, and department staff for reference in maintenance and project work, and to complement the data PennDOT already uses in planning future projects. The next phase of the study will identify potential mitigation strategies to use on projects in Allegheny and Delaware counties, made possible with state and federal matching funds.
Turn Around, Don’t Drown
If you encounter flooding on a roadway,
never drive through it. It takes just 2 feet of fast-moving water to float a car. State law mandates that motorists who drive around or through signs or traffic control devices closing a road or highway due to hazardous conditions will have two points added to their driving records and be fined up to $250. Penalties are higher if emergency responders are called to rescue motorists who disregard warning signs.
With hurricane season on the horizon, Pennsylvanians are advised to continue being vigilant for extreme weather. Motorists should never drive through floodwaters. More than half of all flooding deaths occur in cars. While water on a flooded roadway might not look deep, the roadway could actually be washed away under the water, or the road could be compromised in a way that could make it unsafe to travel.