When it rains, it pours on county roads and bridges

Aug 21, 2018

Erie County is learning the cost of these increasingly common very heavy rains. The water has to go somewhere and if there isn't drainage, it might wash away a road or cause some other problem.

Erie County has 290 bridges and 420 culverts. Those are either the large circular pipes carrying water under a road or a regular road bridge shorter than 20 feet.

The county is expanding the size of its culverts, to let more water flow through and prevent roads from flooding - or worse.

"A lot of these culverts that we're replacing, some of them were designed in the early 1900s, 1920-1930," said Public Works Commissioner Bill Geary, "so you can imagine what used to be just a little farm road that may now be a major thoroughfare or a feeder stream that is getting a lot of runoff from some new developments or things of that nature, and then the cycle of weather patterns we've been seeing the last five years or so."

Geary said that may mean bigger budget problems, since bigger culverts cost more money to buy, build and install.

Credit U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

"If you don't fix the drainage, then the roads ultimately deteriorate faster," Geary said. "I think drainage, anybody will tell you in this industry, is probably the most important thing to any road, but also you can see with these rain events, when you get a deluge of an inch an hour, there is no system that we can build that's big enough to hold that type of water."

Geary has bids due soon for culvert replacements across the county. Geary says the dangers of heavier rains showed up in the Town of Boston.

"Route 391 near Zimmermann Road, which we paved this year, just south of that we had to upsize a culvert," Geary said. "There's a little stream that runs right off the hills down to the creek. The biggest we could get that culvert, once we upsized it, was to a 100-year storm, 150-year storm."

Geary said these problems exist across the county, although there may be more of them in the Southtowns, with those creeks coming off the surrounding hills and flowing down to larger waterways. They can flow much harder and much faster after a heavy rain with that rush down a hill.