An expansive road reconstruction project in southern Illinois was completed posthaste after funding sources dictated that the Illinois Department of Transportation would only receive the necessary monies if it completed it in less than six months.
Miller City Road in Alexander County, Ill., spent a period of over two months underwater after flooding in the spring of 2019. When the roadway was finally visible again in July 2019, the damage was assessed and deemed extensive.
“Large swaths of the roadway were completely washed away, large scour holes were prevalent, many tons of debris was left behind and mountains of sand had to be removed to prepare for improvements,” said Dawn Johnson, communications outreach liaison for the Illinois Department of Transportation Region 5.
Miller City Road is a major thoroughfare for those residents commuting and farming within the area. Alexander County, where Miller City Road resides, is a small county on the southernmost tip of Illinois bordering the Mississippi River. The county has fewer than 6,000 residents. Portions of the road itself lie within the river’s basin.
The Lens Small Levee protected the county from the river until it was damaged in 2016. Along with allowing a host of other crises — ranging from degradation of the farmland due to sand accumulation to barges being sucked — the damage has allowed water to flow mostly freely into the flood zones of the basin within Alexander County during all heavy rainfall events the past several years. Some residents have met with the Mississippi River Commission to seek assistance, claiming the river will make a new pathway through the basin if the levee is not repaired, but incrementally increasing rainfall has caused the levee to fail many times including in 1993 and in 2011.
“The only way to fully protect this roadway from future damage is for the Army Corp of Engineers to repair the gap in the Lens Small Levee just west of the Miller City Road. Without this levee, the new roadway will be inundated in the future,” said Johnson.
The roadway was completely submerged during the record flooding of the Ohio and Mississippi river basins in 2019.
According to IDOT, the record flooding left the roadway underwater for much longer than it has historically been, leaving it sufficiently destroyed. Repairs were expected to take nearly a year to complete.
“Without the coordinational effort, the citizens of Alexander County could have missed out on the FHWA emergency funding and had many months or years without access,” said Johnson.
Due to the significance of the road to the residents of the area, it needed to be completed much sooner.
“Before the water had even receded, the Federal Highway Administration and Illinois Department of Transportation met to begin to determine eligibility for emergency FHWA funding. After the water had receded to a point to evaluate the damage, FHWA, IDOT and Alexander County Highway Department met to evaluate the damage and develop a plan. In order to return access to the area and capitalize on emergency funds, a quick turnaround would be paramount.”
After the Federal Highway Administration, the Illinois Department of Transportation District 9 and the Alexander County engineer met on-site to evaluate the damage and develop a plan, Gov. J.B. Pritzker allowed the repairs to be eligible for Federal Highway Administration funding, opening up a stream of opportunities for the road, which led to a complete evaluation and total reconstruction of damaged portions in under six months.
“With the emergency declaration, it opened up the prospect of 100% federal funding,” Johnson said. “The caveat was that for this project to be funded at 100%, the repairs had to be made within six months of being able to access the damaged area.”
IDOT was going to have to clean up the debris, perform design surveys, design the roadway and fully reconstruct a mile’s worth of the 4-mile stretch in half a year to receive the entire $2 million.
Surveys, roadway designs and contracts awards had to be completed. It took about a month.
In early August, preparation was complete, and construction began in September 2019.
Debris and sand were removed, while thousands of tons of aggregate were brought in to fill and build the sub-base. Additionally, grading, shaping and paving were completed in under three months.
The roadway reopened in December, having been closed for only six months in total.
While the only way to prevent this kind of flooding in the future is for the levee to be repaired, large amounts of riprap were used to support the new roadway. It is hoped this will mitigate and prevent similar damage from occurring again in the future until the levee repair is made.