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Feds Rush Aid for Puerto Rico Infrastructure

Monday, October 2, 2017

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The U.S. Federal Highway Administration announced Thursday (Sept. 28) that it would make $40 million available immediately via a “quick release” to help fund rebuilding efforts in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, where many roads and bridges were damaged by Hurricane Maria.

Guajataca Dam damage
U.S. Army National Guard photos by Staff Sgt. Michelle Gonzalez

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the reconstruction of Puerto Rico’s electric grid and other infrastructure, including the Guajataca Dam.

The new funds came as President Donald J. Trump issued a waiver regarding the Jones Act, a limitation on foreign shipments to U.S. ports, for the island as efforts to rebuild begin. Aid to residents of the island territory has in many cases been hindered by washed-out bridges and damaged roads.

According to the FHWA (a division of the Department of Transportation), emergency work immediately required in Puerto Rico includes repairs to bridges, guard rails, traffic signal systems and “a variety of damages related to mudslides and flooding.” The money has been allocated via the agency’s Emergency Relief fund.

Bridges, Dam Need Repairs

As CNN reported Friday (Sept. 29), bridges like a concrete span in the town of San Lorenzo collapsed in the flooding associated with Maria, which made landfall on Puerto Rico Sept. 20. In remote towns in mountainous parts of the island, the loss of a river bridge can cut residents off from crucial supplies like food and water; citizens have been faced with a choice to either drive many miles on mountain roads, or find a way to ford the river.

Bridge washed out

The FHWA released $40 million from its Emergency Relief fund to help with critical repairs to bridges and roadways in Puerto Rico damaged by Hurricane Maria.

There is no definitive assessment of the infrastructure damage on the island yet; the $40 million FHWA grant is only meant to fund emergency repairs that are immediately needed. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the reconstruction of Puerto Rico’s electric grid and other infrastructure, including the Guajataca Dam.

Guajataca, finished in 1927, sustained damage in the storm, and thousands downstream were evacuated for fear of an uncontrolled release when the structure began to fail Sept. 22. The Corps has performed an assessment of the damage and as of Friday was consulting on repairs.

The Washington Post reports that the dam had not been inspected since 2013.

Texas, Florida Work to Rebuild

The FHWA is also working with the Texas Department of Transportation on potential Emergency Relief appropriations to help with road and highway repairs in that state in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Harvey flooded the eastern section of the state with heavy rains for days in late August; some areas received 40 to 50 inches of rain between Aug. 24 and Aug. 29.

As of Sept. 27, TxDOT crews had collected more than 2.4 million cubic feet of debris from roadways in the areas hit hard by Harvey. Of the more than 4,200 bridges the agency says it has inspected since the storm, 14 were found to require some degree of repair. As of last week—nearly a month after the storm moved on from the area—there were still eight road closures related to hurricane damage.

In Florida, the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, which promotes tourism in the Keys, announced Sept. 25 that it expected the Keys to reopen to visitors Oct. 1 after damage from Hurricane Irma earlier in September. The Council said bridges on U.S. Route 1, the Overseas Highway, passed inspection, and crews had repaired roadside breaches.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Infrastructure; Locks and dams; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways

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