The Effects of Heavy Precipitation Events on Downtown Miami
Heavy precipitation events have impacted downtown Miami on numerous occasions throughout 2021. A few frequently problematic locations seem to have become worse, while construction of the “I-395/SR 836/I-95 Design-Build Project” has created a new set of challenges.
I have been photographing and observing flooding from rain and high tide events throughout Miami for almost a decade and designing solutions for adaptation and mitigation for our region. As a result, I have begun to understand the complexities and interconnectedness of the Miami Ecosystem, both human-made and natural. Some of the effects are visible, others less tangible.
Extreme Precipitation Events that occur around or during King Tides often cause the most damage, as has been the case over the last couple of months, such as September 2nd, October 22nd, and November 5th. Flooding along Biscayne Boulevard has been occurring for many years in several locations. One nuisance location between NE 11th and 12th streets is directly below the current I-395 causeway. It appears the recent highway construction has exacerbated this ongoing issue because of the many acres of exposed compacted gravel area, and possibly also from alterations to the stormwater system, specifically along a portion of NE 12th street that has been closed for many months now based on the new project design.
Along the eastbound entrance to the MacArthur Causeway from Biscayne Boulevard, the water becomes excessively deep. Cars stall out, often wholly blocking traffic in all directions.
Previously, there was a second eastbound MacArthur entrance from NE 13th Street, which has now been closed due to construction, meaning all eastbound traffic to Miami Beach in this vicinity must find alternative routes when the only entrance on Biscayne Boulevard becomes flooded.
On October 22nd, traffic was completely stalled in the northbound direction along Biscayne Boulevard to Flagler Street, 4,200 feet to the south.
There were stalled vehicles in the southbound lanes of Biscayne Boulevard and the side streets of NE 10th & NE 11th Streets. Walking through the dirty water poses health risks from contaminants and potential falls from unseen objects or grade changes hidden below the surface.
Environmental consequences also occur besides the visual property damage to vehicles, vehicle insurance costs, congestion delays, and frustration. The thousands of cars blocked in traffic due to worsening flooding were still emitting CO2 as their engines ran, further perpetuating the negative feedback loop of Climate Change, which partially caused the excessive flooding.
Much of the rain that falls on land enters the stormwater system, washing with it the pollutants on the street from vehicles, trash, and other sediments directly into Biscayne Bay. The sediment from construction sites has garnered increased attention over the last two years as many Scientists and Biologists say the Bay is at a tipping point.
One of the most extensive sediment plumes occurs from two stormwater outfalls on either side of the MacArthur Causeway, directly adjacent to the large highway construction site on NE 12th Street. It can be challenging to see the extent of the issue from the shoreline, so I use a Drone to capture the scope of the problem. Proper rules and enforcement of on-site sediment control are essential to eliminating the continued pollution and killing of the Bay.
Another problematic location is along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks slightly north of NE 6th Street. The entire right-of-way from North Miami Avenue to Biscayne Boulevard fills with water causing the traffic control safety gate arms to malfunction and close.
They often remain in the down position for hours at a time, even after the worst flooding has subsided. The southbound traffic on NE 2nd Avenue becomes clogged as people wait for many minutes thinking a train will soon pass and the gate arms will rise. As a result, traffic has extended into the Omni District, 2,700 feet north.
I have seen people get out of their cars to physically lift the train safety gate arms to allow drivers to pass, and countless pedestrians cross the tracks while the gate arms are closed. This sets a dangerous precedent. Emergency vehicles, including fire trucks, ambulances, and police vehicles, had to find alternate routes due to the entirely stopped traffic and closed gate arms, causing delays for people in a time of need.
South Florida has significant challenges to overcome regarding sea level rise, storm surge, extreme rain events, ecological degradation, economic inequality, and affordable housing. The flooding in Downtown Miami has been going on for years and is relatively minor compared to the extensive scale of the future climate issues we may experience. It is time to solve these problems for one of the region's most heavily populated employment and economic centers.
As we look to update Miami’s infrastructure, from stormwater to mobility to coastal defenses, it is essential to have a future vision and plan for climate changes. When determining the cost of infrastructure projects, we must also account for intangible effects, including potential environmental consequences that are hard to quantify, the lost time for delays from congestion created, and the societal and quality of life issues. Only when we view ourselves as living within the natural ecosystem holistically, and the actions we take are comprehensive and multi-disciplinary can we move forward with the bold, transformative changes our city needs to thrive in the twenty-first century.