Heavy Flooding Prompts DOTs to Close Highways Across Southwest, Plains States

AASHTO Journal, 29 May 2015

The powerful rainstorms that struck hard at Texas and Oklahoma in the Memorial Day week also saturated a host of other states across the Southwest, Plains and into the Midwest, leading departments of transportation and local authorities to close both major and minor roadways throughout those regions.

The storms left millions of dollars in estimated roadway damages in Texas alone, and soon triggered an emergency aid response from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Beyond Texas and Oklahoma, state DOTs also had to post road closures in eastern New Mexico, across Arkansas, and in parts of Kansas and Missouri, with perhaps more closures developing as the week continued and the storms moved eastward.

By the morning of May 27, news agencies reported 19 confirmed dead from floods that swept away homes and trapped vehicles in fast-rising rivers, with 14 reported missing.

The governors of Texas and Oklahoma declared disasters or emergencies in scores of counties, and had to update the lists as the damage toll worsened. By May 26, Gov. Mary Fallin said all 77 Oklahoma counties were under a state of emergency.

State DOTs for both of those states also posted warnings to motorists, telling them to avoid trying to drive through water on roadways and around barriers set up for road closures.

Also on May 27, the USDOT began making road-repair funds available. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said $5 million in Federal Highway Administration emergency relief funds would go to help the Texas DOT cover costs of fixing federal-aid roads that were damaged by floods and torrential rains.

“As the nation has seen in numerous televised reports, highways and bridges throughout the Lone Star State have suffered severe damage from recent rain and flooding,” said Foxx. “The funding provided today will give communities in Texas a head start on the recovery process.”

The USDOT said the repair cost for roads in 37 Texas counties is expected to reach at least $20 million, but that state officials will update their estimates as the flooding abates. The emergency FHWA funds will help pay for initial bridge and road repairs in Blanco County and Hays County, including the replacement of the RM-165 Blanco River Bridge in Blanco County and IH-35 pavement repairs in Hays County.

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