Annapolis seeks short-term solutions after Wednesday flooding

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Annapolis officials are seeking alternative solutions to manage traffic and accessibility after the first nuisance flood of the year Wednesday.

It was a nuisance, to say the least.

High tides following a winter storm shut down Compromise Street, Dock Street and Newman Street on Wednesday morning. The deep pooling water slowed early commutes and caused a traffic backup on the Spa Creek Bridge, which was temporarily barricaded on the downtown side alone.

In posts to social media, email blasts and alerts via the Office of Emergency Management Prepare Me app, officials advised commuters to take alternate routes to avoid the closures. But some drivers continued around police barricades, said city spokeswoman Susan O’Brien, confusing traffic and exacerbating conditions.

Mayor Gavin Buckley and city officials are considering alternate ways to direct traffic following suggestions from residents, O’Brien said.

“Keep in mind (Buckley) has some ideas that he wants to toss out with our emergency management team on how to navigate around these floods,” she said, “because it’s not even flooding season yet.”

Del. Herb McMillan, who travels from Eastport to the State House, suggested creating two-way traffic on Duke Of Gloucester Street to traffic across the bridge.

The city will better deploy messaging boards during flooding events, O’Brien said, which during the Wednesday flood advertised closures for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade next week. The city also wants to improve communication between St. Mary’s High School and Annapolis Elementary School, which attract hundreds of cars between students and parents.

Annapolis experienced on average 39.3 floods a year between 2007 and 2013, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This marks a 925 percent increase from the average 3.8 floods a year between 1957 and 1963. Private and government studies predict anywhere from double to quadruple the number of flood days by 2050.

Former chief of cultural preservation Lisa Craig predicted flooding could become an everyday occurrence in as little as 10 years without a comprehensive mitigation plan. She and the Weather It Together team out of the planning and zoning department produced a Cultural Resource Hazard Mitigation Plan that is still forthcoming.

Planning and zoning director Pete Gutwald, the steward of that plan, did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Annapolis is also working on a long-term flood mitigation system that would prevent back-flow out of storm drains and high tides spilling over the top of seawalls. The city has contracted AECOM, an engineering firm out of Los Angeles, to plan and design a flood mitigation system. The design process will last until September, said David Jarrell, Annapolis public works director. The project could be finished by June 2020.

The city secured $1 million from Gov. Larry Hogan’s budget a few years ago to cover the design. Annapolis wants $3 million from FEMA and $2 million from Hogan in this year’s budget. So far, he has appropriated $750,000, but the city is lobbying the legislature for an increase.

The contractor will complete the construction in phases, beginning on Compromise Street. The pumps planned for the Dock Street side of Ego Alley would conflict with an underground garage Buckley has proposed for the City Dock area. Though the garage is largely conceptual now, public works will wait until the other side “sorts itself out,” Jarrell said, before completing work there.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted tides as high as 1.05 feet Wednesday morning. A coastal flood warning remained in effect for Anne Arundel County until 6 p.m.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of money Annapolis is seeking from the state.

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