Maryland Route 450 between Parole and Crofton does not have shoulders so much as concrete shores, where water wells and covers the pavement on rainy days.
The thoroughfare transects the headwaters of the South River, where homes have been built in communities with surnames like “Hill,” “Ridge” and “Summit” on higher ground. And below, water. Streams, creeks, branches that gather and gather until they become the South River.
Route 450 weaves its way through those ridges and hills in the landscape by following the water — first Bacon Ridge Branch, then North River and then Bell Branch.
The Maryland Department of Transportation started emergency work this March to realign part of Bell Branch, as water from the body spills onto the roadway even on sunny days. It freezes in the winter, causing further safety hazard, spokeswoman Sherry Christian said in an email. Frequent closures forced residents and emergency services to drive around flooded paths, costing time.
That work will continue this weekend, with crews using a flagging system between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Aug. 1 and 2 in the area of Huntwood Drive, the department said in a press release Friday. Drivers should use extra caution when moving past work sites.
It isn’t as simple as one stream. Bell Branch in that area is a dynamic braided channel, which means multiple channels flow parallel to one another, Christian said. During heavy rain the channels are reconnected, and when the water recedes, sediment settles throughout the floodplain, she said.
Over time the larger channel became filled with silt, and water started taking a new route closer to the road, exacerbating flooding.
To help bring the water back away from the road, workers have removed sediment from that main “legacy” channel, have widened the channel, have reinforced parts of the bank with rocks, and will plant along the water to rebuild the ecosystem.
Since the road was built winding through those stream valleys, the number of extreme weather events that happen in a given year has almost doubled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Extreme one-day precipitation events, an EPA term for rain or snow in an out-of-the-ordinary amount in a single day, are becoming more frequent because of climate change, the agency says on its website.