Flooding on Abercorn Street (video): how can we minimize the damage?

It poured in and around downtown Savannah today. Much of the area that experienced street flooding sits well above sea level — it’s some of the highest land in the county. But we have longstanding drainage problems when the rain is torrential — apparently up to 5 inches — like it was today.

And those drainage problems are exacerbated by other problems of our own making. There was about 6 inches of water racing along the curb in front of my house on 32nd Street and headed toward the storm sewer; the majority of that water was running off of the surface parking lot next door.

One of the worst and most predictable spots for street flooding is on Abercorn more or less between 64th and 66th streets. When the rain is as intense and prolonged as it was this afternoon, there was no doubt that stretch of road would flood, that a few cars would stop or stall, that emergency personnel or road rescue crews would have to be called, and so forth.

It’s very easy, and not entirely wrong, to blame the drivers who rather ignorantly plow straight ahead into water that quickly reaches their doors. On the other hand, you’re driving along an important arterial road in the middle of the afternoon, and you’re moving along fine despite the heavy rain, and the roads ahead are open and apparently flat — it’s easy to see how someone who has not traveled that stretch in a storm could get stuck.

And that raises another question: if the same streets flood every time it rains, why do public safety officials wait until one or more cars have stalled before they close the roads?

Kind of oddly, the city of Savannah just had a series of meetings so residents could share the spots that flood. Well, this stretch of Abercorn floods every time. I even wrote a column referencing this intersection a few years ago.

So these four videos offer views of 65th Street and Abercorn Street. It’s interesting in one of them to see how much wake is produced by passing cars — in some places, those wakes do significant property damage. It’s also interesting to see how much standing water there is even after the rain has stopped.

The city has been exploring options for major infrastructure upgrades in this area, which includes Habersham Village, but the only bid came in at $75 million — that’s a massive expenditure in a city of this size, especially considering that some drainage problems will surely remain no matter how much money has been spent.