Elevation Zero
7:53 am
Thu November 14, 2013

Fort Lauderdale Ahead Of The State When It Comes To Sea-Level Rise Protection

Fort Lauderdale's State Road A1A suffered serious damages from Tropical Storm Sandy.
Fort Lauderdale's State Road A1A suffered serious damages from Tropical Storm Sandy.
Credit Florida Department of Transportation

If not for its patchwork of different shades of asphalt, you would never imagine the stretch of State Road A1A along Fort Lauderdale Beach was all underwater a year ago.

Last November, Tropical Storm Sandy and small storms that followed washed out a four-block section of A1A, north of Sunrise Boulevard. Sandy wasn’t a big storm, so the uncharacteristic destruction it brought has been explained by sea-level rise, which can cause increasingly harmful storm surges.

The Florida Department of Transportation doesn’t have a statewide policy requiring implementing sea-level rise precautions in road construction. So local agency management and the city of Fort Lauderdale took to rebuilding.

The city and local FDOT management have spent more than $8 million on the A1A project, with at least another $6 million planned for further beautification. FDOT drove sheet pilings nearly 40 feet into the sand between the beach and what was left of the road.

“It’s very near and dear to our heart to put best practices into place so that we’re creating the roadways for not just tomorrow, but for 20 years down the road,” says Diana Alarcon from the Fort Lauderdale Transportation and Mobility Department.

Fort Lauderdale resident Mollie Meyers raised her kids in the same beachfront house where she lived in eighth grade. She says after Sandy, she could see people kayaking down A1A from her patio.

“I’d never seen [the water] come across the way it did that time. Again and again and again,” Meyers said, recalling the storm.

Sandy’s waves ate away at the sand beneath concrete and asphalt, causing sections of road and sidewalk to fall into the sea like piano keys.

When the waters retreated, rebuilding started. But other roads in South Florida, just as vulnerable and crucial, have not been fortified to withstand storms like Sandy, in part because they have not needed repair, and in part due to lack of statewide preventive policy.

“It’s not something that's risen to the level yet that the department feels that we have to set a statewide policy on this issue,” said Jim Wood, director of policy at FDOT. “It doesn’t necessarily make sense for the department to set a policy for something that may be of more interest to a [municipality] in Southeast Florida than [one] in a different part of the state.”

Wood thinks FDOT’s role with regard to sea-level rise is to make studies about it available to municipalities.

Len Berry is director of the Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University. He was the principal investigator on one such study funded by FDOT. It outlines a method for identifying areas that will be affected by sea-level rise.

“In many parts of the globe, six inches of sea-level rise doesn't make much difference. In South Florida it does,” Berry said.

And he thinks the lack of policy is a major roadblock to effectively preparing for sea-level rise.

Fort Lauderdale hopes the fortification of A1A will act as a model for future projects.

A1A was rebuilt in the same place it was before Sandy. That may seem misguided, but it’s the only choice: That road is the only one with access to more than 150 homes and condos along the beach.

But the road’s reduction from four lanes to two is a symbol of what Berry calls “retreat”: Adapting to sea-level rise rather than trying to fight it.

“‘Retreat’ is not in the American lexicon,” he says, “but it is going to be part of our lexicon as we deal with sea-level rise.”