September 3, 2011 / 1:45 PM / 8 years ago

The mighty Missouri River: the flooding and the damage done

MINNEAPOLIS/COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (Reuters) - The cost of America’s quiet billion dollar disaster in the Upper Midwest keeps rising as floodwaters decline.

Shortly before Memorial Day, a summer of unprecedented flooding from Montana to Missouri along the Missouri River started washing away interstate highway lanes and swamping rail lines as it routed thousands of people from their homes.

Flooding continues this Labor Day weekend and is expected not to end for several more weeks. As the water recedes, the extent of damage from three months of flooding is showing up.

In cities such as Pierre, South Dakota’s capital, the receding floodwaters have left behind sinkholes in roads and parks and begun to reveal widespread damage to storm sewer systems, public softball fields and a city golf course.

“We are just now, as the river is going back, really seeing what the damage is,” Pierre Mayor Laurie Gill said.

Along the riverbanks, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates the cost of repairing its levees and patching up its dams from Montana to Nebraska could top $1 billion.

Behind breached levees and across the floodplains, the estimated cost of fixing damaged roads, rail lines, bridges and other infrastructure is swelling in time and dollars.

States in the Midwest are competing for attention, and for federal dollars, with other disasters that have struck since the flooding, including Hurricane Irene on the East Coast at the end of August.

Heavy rains and snow melt in the Northern Plains this spring forced the Corps to release record volumes of water out of its reservoirs, causing historic and persistent flooding.

Along the Nebraska-Iowa border, the three-mile-long Interstate 680 link between Omaha, Nebraska, and Interstate 29 north of Council Bluffs in western Iowa was destroyed.

The south-flowing current reduced the east-west-aligned lanes to rubble. Rebuilding the highway is expected to take until at least November 2012.

Debris and floodwater still covers most of the 22 miles of I-29 north of Council Bluffs to Missouri Valley, Iowa. Iowa officials hope to open that stretch of road this fall.

Floodwater is undermining and scouring I-29 near Hamburg in southwest Iowa. The Interstate — the main route from Kansas City, Missouri, to Canada — has been closed in southwest Iowa most of the summer.


Iowa road officials don’t expect floodwater to recede enough to assess damage along all of I-29 until mid October.

Floodwater flowed across Iowa Highway 2 between I-29 and Nebraska City, Nebraska, all summer. Engineers expect to find nothing but concrete debris when the water goes down.

The cost of I-29 repairs alone could be tens of millions of dollars, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation, but they hope to open the route by the end of the year.

The damage to I-29 extends into northwest Missouri, where some 65 miles of mainly lower volume roads are water-covered. Many roads have been inundated for more than two months.

Missouri hopes to have the majority of road repairs completed by the end of the year, said Rick Bennett, a traffic liaison engineer coordinating Missouri efforts. Shoulder damage could be repaired by October or November, he said.

Inspections have found holes in roads, at least one up to 30 feet deep, that will take longer to repair, he said.

This is the worst flood damage to roads in Missouri in the last four to five years, but: “The flood of ‘93 was a magnitude worse than this one,” Bennett said.

The major river bridges into Missouri from Nebraska and Kansas that are closed were not damaged on the Missouri side, but there is some significant damage to pavement leading to bridges on Highways 136 and 159, officials said.

While highways in the region took the brunt of flooding, railroads have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into raising tracks in an often-futile race with floodwaters.

BNSF Railway, based in Fort Worth, Texas, expects to spend more than $300 million to restore and harden its rail network, said John P. Lanigan Jr., executive vice president.

Flooding severed BNSF’s busy St. Joseph, Missouri, corridor. It was scheduled to reopen September 3, but persistent high water was expected to keep nearby lines in the Omaha area out of service until late September or early October.

BNSF raised miles of track by up to eight feet, built levees and berms to protect rails and repaired and replaced hundreds of miles of damaged track, bridges and structures.

The railroad also rerouted up to 40 percent of its trains and shifted nearly 500 BNSF employees temporarily to handle the change.

Union Pacific Railroad, based in Omaha, spent about $14 million on materials and other flood-related efforts, spokesman Mark Davis said.

The railroad lost about $20 million in coal revenue during the first month of flooding alone, he said. Crews raised nearly 75 miles of track and nine bridges in northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri.

Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Jerry Norton

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