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Transportation Infrastructure

Florida Keys Hurricane 1935

Long Term Planning

The timescale of tropical cyclones is long term, requiring long term planning to prepare for the storms. Developing infrastructure that is better prepared for storms can be done in stages over the long term, in combination with other infrastructure upgrades. Projects can be identified and completed in stages over time, instead of all at once.

The hydro-geomorphology of Florida is different than other U.S. states, yet much of its infrastructure has been turn-key projects of technology developed for other states unchanged, simply “copycat infrastructure” that is not adapted to conditions that are different than the conditions for which the infrastructure was originally designed.

The Florida Keys can prepare by planning its own long term infrastructure, to be phased in as the rest of the state improves its infrastructure. For example, opening up the Keys to better water flow between Florida Bay and the Atlantic Ocean can be done in stages, as the water quality from the mainland to the Everglades and Florida Bay improves with updated infrastructure upstream.

Copycat Railroad

The railroad that was built in the Florida Keys was developed for mainland uses. In the Keys, it was copycat infrastructure.

Railroad berms, that were used in the Keys, were designed to be used on dry land, and as levees parallel to high-current water flow (fast moving water with a lot of volume) not perpendicular to high-current flow.

Figure 1:  Railroad berm on dry land in Slovenia. [Wiki]

Figure 2:  Railroad berm as a levee parallel to the Snake River near Pullman, Washington. [Wiki]

Figure 3:  Railroad berm/levee parallel to the Columbia River, circa 1913. [Wiki]

Culverts were designed to be used in railroad berms on dry land for livestock passage, and for crossing small creeks in city parks (not out in the open seas).

Figure 4:  Wooden culvert in a railroad berm for passage of cattle, Idaho. [Wiki]

Figure 5:  Concrete culvert in a railroad berm for passage of cattle, Idaho. [Wiki]

Even in city and suburban parks, with much less storm water flow than the open seas, railroad berm culverts would get overwhelmed with storm-swollen creeks.

Figure 6:  Drawing from an advertisement in a railroad construction manual, 1901, promoting urban and suburban railroad berm culverts with flared edges (right) instead of straight pipe entry (left). [Wiki]

Viaducts for railroads would normally use longer spans for each opening, reducing the blockage-to-flow cross section ratio compared to the Keys railroad (although still have spans that are too short compared to modern bridges).

And the Keys railroad viaducts did not have rounded leading edges on the piers, as was common for viaducts over rivers. All of these errors were oversights resulting from gross under-estimation of water flow velocity and volume in the Keys.

Rounded piers was the style for viaducts because, like flared edges of a culvert, that would help reflect waves downstream instead of back upstream against the flow.

Figure 7:  Rounded leading edges of railroad viaduct piers, Thomas Viaduct, Maryland. [Wiki]

Recommended Dikes

With high-current water flow, dikes (levees) must be oriented parallel to the water flow, not perpendicular to the water flow.

We refer to dikes that are parallel to water flow as force efficient, because they reflect the force of flowing water downstream, instead of reflecting the force backwards upstream. Those are the kinds of dikes that should be used in the Florida Keys, not the railroad berm infrastructure that was designed for dry land and light water use.

Natural bypass areas in the Florida Keys have been blocked by the railroad dike across the Keys that reflects ebb current backwards, instead of reflecting the escaping water downstream through a bypass.

A bypass is a land area that temporarily floods to prevent worse flooding nearby, like the Yolo Bypass in California that floods fields to prevent flooding in Sacramento. The Florida Keys had natural bypasses that reduced ebb-current flooding of other parts of the Keys, now all blocked by the railroad dike.

Natural bypass areas in the Keys can be recreated by removing dike sections (replaced with bridges, like the Interstate 5 bridge west from Exit 531 in California), to release ebb-currents after storms.

Fill that is removed from the Keys highway dike could be used to build dikes on the sides of newly created bypasses, with the new dikes oriented parallel to bypass water flow, like the dikes in the Yolo Bypass in California.

Figure 8:  Looking north on a dike (levee) parallel to water flow of the Yolo Bypass in California (near Interstate 5, between Woodland and the Sacramento River), after flooding from storms. This dike forms the west boundary of the Yolo Bypass (which is on the right, shown flooded). The dike forming the east boundary of the Bypass is to the right of this photograph (shown in next figure). [USGS]

Figure 9:  Looking north on dike (levee) that forms the eastern boundary of the Yolo Bypass. Fremont Weir Wildlife Area in the Yolo Bypass (left) floods after major storms. Farm fields on the right, at the same elevation as the Bypass, are kept dry by this dike that keeps flood waters in the Bypass (left). Water flow is parallel to the dike. I-5 Exit 531 provides public hiking and cycling access to the dike (also accessible from County Road 16).

Infrastructure within a bypass (such as a parking lot and access roads) can be designed to withstand storm flooding and resume usefulness during non-storm weather, like is done in the Yolo Bypass, where paved County Road 22 crosses the Bypass (west of I-5 Exit 531) and is submerged during flooding but is used normally when not flooded.

Baypasses in the Upper Keys can be recreated on low land that is suitable for growing mangroves and extends from the Gulf to Ocean sides. Regular use of the bypasses, when not evacuated for tropical cyclones, can include hiking, cycling, canoeing, fishing, back road access for local traffic during traffic jams, etc. Dikes can be built on the sides of a bypass with fill from removing the highway dike at the bypass. Properties can be acquired for bypasses through land swaps, donations, tax breaks, etc., as was done to create the Yolo Bypass.

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