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Impact: Roads

Hurricane Sandy last year damaged A1A in Fort Lauderdale.

Hot Spot: Fort Lauderdale
Rerouting

One of the biggest and most expensive items on the sea level rise to-do list is preparing Florida’s roads for higher waters. To prevent flooding from sea level rise and storm surges, roads in low-lying areas will need to be raised, rerouted or have drainage improvements that direct water away from the road.

It is a costly endeavor. In Fort Lauderdale, the state spent $8.3 million earlier this year fixing a half-mile portion of State Road A1A four miles northeast of downtown.

The road, which offers unbroken views of the beach and Atlantic Ocean, was damaged by coastal erosion when Tropical Storm Sandy blew past in October. A potent combination of high tides, the storm and historical sea level rise broke apart a sea wall that protects the road from the ocean, sending waves and sand on to A1A.

The good news is that most of Florida’s interstates are located farther inland and won’t be as susceptible to flooding, says Leonard Berry, head of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University. But that leaves thousands of less-trafficked roads maintained by cities and counties vulnerable to flooding.

The state has not conducted a formal analysis of what roads are most vulnerable to sea level rise or the cost of maintaining them. But some counties are studying the issue as roads flood more frequ ently, especially in areas like the Keys and Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Chris Bergh, south Florida conservation director at the Nature Conservancy, says most counties don’t have the money for long-term fixes.

“They are thinking about how they will cope with increased flooding as sea level rises, but they get caught up in the present day,” Bergh says. “It’s a real tension. We have immediate problems regardless of what will happen in the future.”

Hot Spot: St. Johns County
Litigation

In this county just south of Jacksonville, a group of more than 30 property owners in an oceanfront subdivision called Summer Haven sued the county in 2005 for allegedly not properly maintaining a 1.6-mile stretch of “Old A1A,” their only access to their homes.

Since 1979, a series of storms, encroaching high tides and beach erosion has washed away parts of the road or encased it in hard-packed sand. About a third remains paved. The closest tide gauge, north of Summer Haven at Fernandina Beach, indicates the average sea level rose by nearly eight inches over the past 100  years.

The county spent $2.3 million primarily in FEMA funds on road repairs between 2000 and 2005 — about $230,000 per mile more than a typical county road. But after the county placed a moratorium on construction in Summer Haven, citing the road, the property owners sued, arguing the county has a duty to maintain access on the road, no matter how damaged it is.

The case was settled with most property owners earlier this year. The county agreed that it wouldn’t use the road as a reason to deny development and will repair and maintain the existing paved road. The county spent $970,000 fighting the lawsuit, says County Attorney Patrick McCormack. The Summer Haven property owners likely spent even more money fighting the  county.

“To me, litigation is one of the adaptation costs of sea level rise,” says Thomas Ruppert, a coastal planning specialist with Florida Sea Grant. “Local governments feel like they are between a rock and a hard spot. If you don’t let them build, they sue you.”