It’s been more than three weeks since the Missouri River crested at 32.12 feet in St. Joseph, but some roads, including Interstate 29, are closed despite flood water continually going down.
While water may not be covering roads in St. Joseph, many surrounding areas remain submerged, and according to Adam Watson, an engineer with the Missouri Department of Transportation, the damage done to those roads has yet to be fully inspected.
“A lot of them are still covered and as it’s covered, we can’t even inspect for damage in certain areas,” Watson said. “We’re doing our best to uncover the damage as soon as possible, so that does mean into the water to see, but for the most part, we’re reliant on the water to go down before we can even begin our assessment of needs.”
According to Watson, a lot of damage already was done to many roads by a harsh winter before the flooding even began. The pressure of hauling farming equipment and tractors along with a large amount of water due to flooding means many roads will need to be repaired.
“Everything west of I-29 is going to be flooded somewhere, somehow,” Watson said. “I know that one of the bridges on 159 was a loss for us, so we’re going to have to replace that bridge prior to opening 159, obviously.”
On the 159 bridge, which sits near Fortescue, Missouri, large sections have been washed away and concrete is now sagging, making the structure extremely dangerous to be driven on.
“If the stars align it will get done this year,” Watson said. “Some of the damage will take months and months, maybe even into the spring of next year before it gets totally repaired.”
Other roads only will need to have filled in where water has washed away parts of the concrete, like Highway 136.
“I anticipate we’re going to have considerable damage on 136 that will have to be repaired prior to opening it,” Watson said. “Most of them still have water over them. All of them are going to have some amount of damage, and if not damage, cleaning and debris removal that’s going to have to be taken care of.”
As for who will be paying for the clean up and repairs, Watson said that until a federal emergency is declared, no national dollars can be used to repair local roadways. Watson said that MoDOT will be taking the financial hit when it comes to repairing roads that are not federal highways.
“We do have participation from the (federal government) for those routes that are federal highway routes,” Watson said. “Unfortunately, a lot of routes, not a lot of state routes, but local routes, aren’t federal highways. Those funds can be recouped when there’s a disaster declaration. Then we can show them the amount of damage that can happened because of this disaster and try to apply for funds.”
Following inspections, repairs and some rebuilding, the Department of Transportation in Missouri will still rely on its neighbors to the north to determine when some interstates can open. Many roads in Iowa and Nebraska still are submerged or heavily damaged, so sending traffic down certain routes would present more dangers.
“Interstate 29, we’re really going to work with Iowa,” Watson said. “The last thing we want to do is have traffic traveling up I-29 not be able to get through, because it’s an interstate and the intent is to move through and then just have to travel back roads that may not be set up for that size or volume of traffic.”
While many are worried that flooding will occur again in Holt and Atchison counties sooner rather than later, MoDOT officials will not be waiting on weather predictions to begin repairs once the water goes down.
“Our job is to provide transportation for Missourians, so our efforts are going to be to reopen these roads as quickly as possible,” Watson said. “We’re going to get more damage, whether it be this year, next year or the year after, so we’re not going to wait.”
For updates on road closures and reopenings, check out MoDOT’s Traveler Information Map, at http://traveler.modot.org/map.