Miami Beach

April 27, 2014

With rising waters in South Beach, FDOT busy on Alton Road drainage

Alton Road may be Ground Zero for climate change as flooding woes have environmentalists and activists warning about the effects of sea-level rise.

María Elena Soya has seen the water reach above her ankles whenever the sea swamps sections of Alton Road in South Beach.

“People say it’s the tide rising,” Soya said. “That it’s because of global warming, that the sea level is rising.”

Soya, who works at an apartment building near the corner of Alton Road and 10th Street, may well be at Ground Zero when the alignment of moon, earth and sun triggers high tides in South Florida. While flooding typically ends after a few days, many scientists believe that eventually the water may one day not recede.

State transportation authorities are taking steps to deal with the issue.

The Florida Department of Transportation has torn up Alton Road to install three new pump stations, new inlets and piping to improve drainage and alleviate flooding. In addition, FDOT is trying to better understand the impact of sea level rise after a 2012 report prepared for the department by Florida Atlantic University warned that some roadways, bridges, airports and railways in Florida are vulnerable.

The FAU report did not mention Alton Road, but noted that major roads in the Dania Beach area are “potentially vulnerable” to sea level rise. The roads listed in the report include Federal Highway, A1A, Griffin Road, Stirling Road and Sheridan Street.

“FDOT is supporting adaptation planning and long-term understanding of the impacts of sea level change through research,” said Brian Rick, an FDOT spokesman in Miami.

Specifically, Rick added, FDOT has developed an application, in coordination with the University of Florida’s GeoPlan Center, to assess the impact of sea level change on roads. The tool is based on a research discipline known as Geographic Information System through which experts can obtain, store, analyze and display vast amounts of geographical data.

The FAU report made it clear that sea level is rising and that state transportation authorities should take measures. Activists have been making waves as well.

In October 2012 at the corner of 10th Street and Alton Road, not far from where Soya works, environmentalists waded into ankle-deep water to stage a rally. They noted that sea level rise is not an abstract issue for the distant future, but a reality today.

The activists were trying to insert climate change as an issue into the presidential debate between Barack Obama and his Republican contender Mitt Romney, which took place at Lynn University in Boca Raton three days later. Neither mentioned sea level rise.

Alton, a few blocks west of the Atlantic Ocean, is Miami Beach’s lowest point, 2.8 feet above sea level. The inundation tide has reached 3.4 feet above sea level.

Rick, the FDOT spokesman, said the improved drainage system the agency is installing on Alton Road is designed to push the sea water away from the road during high tide events.

“Season high tides were considered in the design,which resulted in the use of backflow preventers and pump stations,” he said.

FDOT’s $32 million Alton Road project, which began in April 2013, is expected to be completed in August 2015.

However, Rick said portions of the roadway are expected to reopen to drivers on or before Dec. 31.

The inundations of Alton Road occur mostly in mid- to late October.

“It scares me a little bit,” Soya said.

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