Just east of Cleburne, a hole nearly big enough to swallow a car has opened up on County Road 704C, the result of raging floodwaters that left the inner workings of a culvert and storm drainage pipe exposed.
In Central Texas, officials are scurrying along the Blanco River to rebuild two heavily traveled bridges — one destroyed, the other severely damaged. State officials say the structures crumpled under the bombardment of trees, houses and other large chunks of material that were carried downstream with terrifying force, striking the bridge supports as they passed.
Potholes? They are everywhere. In Blue Mound, just north of Fort Worth, a pothole at least 8 feet long and 3 feet wide — large enough to rip out the suspension of just about any vehicle — surfaced on a residential street.
While lakes are full and the long-standing drought is mostly a memory — thanks to the wettest month on record in Texas — city, county and state officials are trying to get their arms around just how much damage floodwaters have done to roads and bridges.
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They already know the damage will likely total tens of millions of dollars — enough that decision-makers might postpone plans to widen roads and make other less-pressing improvements as they shift their limited road funds to emergency repairs.
“It’s hard to quantify at this point because so many roads are still under water,” said Jamie Moore, Johnson County’s emergency management coordinator. Moore estimates that at least $750,000 worth of road and bridge damage has been found around Cleburne and Joshua, including the giant washed-out culvert on County Road 704C.
And frustrations mount for the traveling public as roadways are quickly closed by high waters.
On Friday, hundreds of motorists were stranded for hours after Loop 12 was submerged in chest-high water at Interstate 30 in west Dallas. State officials said the road would likely be closed for four to five days. More water filled the intersection Saturday, and workers were left with the task of pumping an estimated 200,000 gallons off the road and inspecting it for damage.
At least 16 roads were closed Saturday morning in Wise County because of high water, prompting Sheriff David Walker to say, “It’s kind of a mess right now.”
Part of Trinity Boulevard in east Fort Worth, always prone to flooding, was closed Friday and remained shut down Saturday morning as water covered the road and flooded fields on both sides near the Greenbelt Road intersection.
State and local officials across the region hoped for a break in the wet weather this week so the standing water can evaporate and they can fully calculate the losses on highways, byways, bridges, underpasses and other low-lying pathways.
“We don’t know what’s under the water,” Moore said. “Obviously, it [the damage estimate] will increase substantially.”
The money game
Counties have contingency funds to cover repairs, and state emergency dollars are also available.
Gov. Greg Abbott has declared disasters in 70 counties, including Denton, Johnson, Parker and Wise, making them eligible for state assistance.
Late Friday, President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration for Texas and ordered federal aid to supplement recovery efforts. Obama’s action makes federal funding available to victims in Harris, Hays and Van Zandt counties.
In Tarrant County, officials are checking asphalt-topped roads for damage below the surface, said Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fickes of Southlake, whose precinct includes Northeast Tarrant County. They’re also checking for damage to culverts, which are often exposed when soil erodes.
“We put down the proper base material, but when you get so much water [that] your base gets saturated, it can break down,” Fickes said.
The Texas Department of Transportation has a policy that helps district engineers deal with emergency repairs after natural disasters, chief engineer Bill Hale said.
In Hays County, the deadly flooding caused major damage to at least two bridges, including a Ranch Road 12 state highway bridge in Wimberley that is now reduced to one lane. Also, a locally owned structure nearby, the Fischer Store Road bridge, was destroyed, most likely by trees and the remnants of houses carried away by the fierce waters, Hale said.
“Trees can become battering rams when they get washed away,” Hale said.
The state estimated road and bridge damage at $35 million, Hale said, but that was before rain fell Thursday, Friday and Saturday — so the final tally will likely be much higher.
Locally owned infrastructure can also qualify for state and federal emergency aid, although city or county officials often must put up their own money first and seek reimbursement, officials said.
State and local authorities have the resources to fix broken pieces of the transportation grid on short notice, but it comes at a cost — usually postponing other scheduled work, such as adding new lanes in a growing area or replacing a worn-out piece of roadway or bridge.
“We can use our fund balance, and we have funding available in maintenance and operations, but a lot of times it requires us to delay a project or two,” Hale said.
Some cities have dedicated funds for pothole repair. In Arlington, a voter-approved street maintenance fund supported by a quarter-cent sales tax has provided more than $123 million to fix potholes and make other relatively simple road repairs since 2002, officials said.
Arlington deploys a “pothole patch truck” with a full-time crew that patrols the streets, looking for problems.
The Denton and Fort Worth street departments also have crews dedicated to potholes.
In the coming weeks, they’ll have their work cut out for them.
This report includes material from The Associated Press.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796