Almost half the roads in Monroe County will be affected by sea level rise

In recent years, Monroe County has taken a hard look sea level rise. During high tide and strong storms, some roadways are already subject to flooding.

It’s pretty obvious the problem will continue, and likely grow worse, unless something is done.

Rhonda Haag, Chief Resilience Officer for Monroe County, and Kristen Livengood, Public Information Officer for Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9,102.5FM recently to talk about future plans for sea level rise.

The Roads Vulnerability Study found 49% of the county owned roadways are going to be subject to sea level rise by 2045.

Livengood said, “This was a big topic of conversation that we had. It’s been going on for years now, especially with some of the issues that some of our upper Keys communities have with flooding during high tide events or during major rain events. This is something that the county’s been working on for a decade now. We’re actually one of the people that are in the forefront of this topic of conversation.”

Because the county’s been ahead of the game, a lot of the studies are already finished when funding discussions happen in Tallahassee.

Livengood said, “We’re very very fortunate to have Rhonda on board, to have a commission that believes that there is rising seas and knows that this is something that our community is very vulnerable to in the future.”

The county is helping the surrounding municipalities with their mobile LiDAR project, which identifies roadway assets and related infrastructure to determine sustainability.

Haag said, “We’re about to start work in Islamorada. Hopefully we’ll buzz through that and do Key West and Layton and Islamorada and Key Colony Beach after that. By the end of the year, we should have that done.”

The information will allow for planning for sea level rise — one solution is to raise the roads.

The estimated cost two years ago to improve roads was $1.8 billion. Conceptual designs over the last few years, allowed the county to shave off $200 million to the initial estimated costs.

Haag explained, “That’s due to design efficiencies, such as not having to raise the roads maybe two or three feet high, we can raise them less high, but build in the storm water features. That’s really important. I want all the listeners to understand that when we elevate roads, we capture all of the rainwater that falls on the roads. It does not fall off onto neighbor’s yards and things like that. We get a lot of confusion about that.”

The water can be captured through gutters or walls.

Even by the year 2025, there are $888 million worth of projects that should be done and the question is how does the county move forward with those?

This is grant season, so projects can be submitted and the county is trying to figure out which ones they should start with.

Haag said, “It’s important that we move forward with some of them. We’re really crunching the numbers right now to see which projects should we submit this year for construction and design.”

Resilience is a new program, so the funds have to come from somewhere. Existing taxes can’t really be used because they are already earmarked.

Haag said, “That’s why we have to look for new sources of funding to help pay for it. Grants aren’t going to pay for it all. We have to develop our own internal sources of funding.”

In addition to the roads being affected by sea level rise, 79% of the homes are also vulnerable. Private property owners can also work with the county on some of the projects.

In fact in September, the commission will discuss private property owner rights and what they could do in terms of filling their yards or putting sea walls in.

Haag said, “We have to work together. Government can’t solve everybody’s problems. We can certainly help, but it’s only with the businesses and the residents working with us and helping out that we’re going to have really true resilience in the Keys.