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Study shows how Tampa Bay area roads would fare in major hurricane

Posted at 5:21 AM, Aug 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-06 09:27:12-04

A newly released study takes a hard look at what would happen to our roads if Tampa Bay was hit by a major hurricane.

The Resilient Tampa Bay: Transportation Study was conducted by the Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco Metropolitan Planning Organizations, Florida Department of Transportation and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

It used a Category 3 hurricane as a baseline to look at potential impacts to the roadway network.

"We found that our roadways are clearly vulnerable and the cost to reduce vulnerability is significant," said Sean Sullivan, Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. "We're hoping that elected officials in the region can take a look at the report, realize that our surface transportation network is vulnerable and there is a cost to reduce that vulnerability and then to help make the best informed decision they can."

Here are some of the findings:

  • Many of the area’s main arteries – Gandy Boulevard, Courtney Campbell Causeway, U.S. 19 north of Tampa Road, U.S. 41 from East Tampa to SR 674, all of Gulf Boulevard on the beaches, Tampa Road/Hillsborough Avenue in Westchase/Oldsmar areas – have high vulnerability
  • For Gandy Boulevard, the 8.35 miles of road for the two approaches to the Gandy Boulevard bridge are highly vulnerable in sustained rain (flooding with low flood waters) or Category 3 storm (completely flooded with high flood waters). The report recommends raising the profile of Gandy Boulevard approaches by 4 feet, with an estimated cost of $46.7M. Separate studies investigate replacing the bridge.
  • In Pasco County, Resilient Tampa Bay considered US 19 from S.R. 54 to S.R. 52 and S.R. 54 from US 19 to Suncoast Pkwy.
    • For US 19, the project looked at a segment of 8.45 miles near New Port Richey that runs along an inland waterway, adjacent to properties that face the waterway. There is little protection in place to guard against a Category 3 hurricane, which would completely flood this segment with high floodwaters, and a precipitation event that would impact .67 miles with low floodwaters. The report recommends adding a soil mat on both sides and raise the profile of the road, with a projected cost of $136.2M. It would be a major project that may be difficult to fund. As such, an alternate project would be the raise the intersections first and later raise the segments.
  • In Pinellas County, Resilient Tampa Bay considered Gulf Boulevard from Bath Club Circle to 125th Ave & Tom Stuart Causeway Bridge and Roosevelt Boulevard from Ulmerton Road to Gandy Boulevard.
    • For Gulf Boulevard, the project reviewed a 4.95-mile stretch running along the coast in Pinellas County where the road is primarily flat and adjacent to seashore properties. It’s vulnerable to low levels of flooding in a .67-mile span east on Tom Stuart causeway and southern section on Gulf Boulevard. However, during a Category 3 event, the entire length of road is subject to inundation. The adjacent development creates a minimal number of options for protecting the road by raising the profile or enhancing the shoulders. Instead, the report recommends natural shoreline options such as beach enhancement to provide topographic protection and adding cross drains (assume 36- inch pipes, 5 per mile) and widening swales where there is available space, with a projected cost of $12M.

Sullivan says that the time to plan is now. He hopes local governments will use this report as a resource.

“If we make incremental changes, it could be argued that the cost would be less than if you had a complete failure and had to rebuild the roadway from scratch essentially,” said Sullivan.

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