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Transportation woes continue from river flooding

Transportation woes continue from river flooding

August 29th, 2011 in News

TARKIO, Mo. (AP) - Floodwater from the bloated Missouri River that has covered miles of roads around the state's northwest for nearly three months is still causing headaches for residents and towns suddenly dealing with increased traffic, and state transportation officials say it's unclear when any repair work will begin.

Sixty-five miles of road remain submerged, including some of the few routes with bridges across the Missouri. And six miles of Interstate 29 just across the Missouri-Iowa border is still underwater, with another 14 miles submerged just north of Council Bluffs, Iowa, The Kansas City Star reported.

In some areas of the state, the water has carved out holes 40 feet deep under highway pavement.

The full amount of damage and when repairs might start are still unknown.

"It is too early for us to predict," said Beth Wright, state maintenance engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation. "We are certainly hopeful we can start addressing damaged roads at least by the middle to end of September to the middle of October."

That's not good news for drivers like Sherry Gayler, 61, of Rock Port, who used to have a 15 minute drive to her job at the Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville, Neb.

Her fastest route now is to drive 65 miles into Iowa, take a bridge into Plattsmouth, Neb., and then drive another 60 miles south to work - a 125-mile commute.

"I leave at 5:30 a.m." Gayler said. "It takes me 2 1⁄2 hours one way."

Like many Cooper employees, Gayler stays with a friend during the week and drives home on Thursdays, to avoid the long daily commute.

Don Stevens, assistant district engineer for the Iowa Department of Transportation, said that when the water does recede, highway employees will use ground-penetrating ultrasound and other devices to test the road and ground beneath, but that it could take months before repairs begin.

"Our hope is to get as much (tested) as we can by winter," Stevens said. "Whether that happens or not, we have no idea."

Towns that have escaped flooding are dealing with the problems caused by the detoured routes. In Tarkio, which is 10 miles east of Rock Port and the Missouri River, the traffic has been relentless. Every day, thousands of vehicles drive, some hitting speeds of 70 to 80 mph.

"It's running day and night, nonstop," Police Chief Tyson Gibbons said.

Every day at the start and end of school, Gibbons and his deputies patrol a stop along U.S. 59, which runs by the high school and elementary school. They've painted white lines on the roads and thrown down electronic flares at the crosswalks. Fewer parents are letting their children walk to school.

"We had one going 81 (mph) in a 30 mph zone," Gibbons recalled, adding that Tarkio's tickets for reckless driving last month were double the month before, up to about 76.

Other towns taking detoured traffic, such as Maryville, Mo., and towns in Iowa, such as Clarinda and Braddyville, report similar problems.

"They're just ripping through stoplights. We've been seeing a lot more accidents since day one," said Page County, Iowa, Sheriff Lyle Palmer.

He said his department wrote about 30 tickets on the Fourth of July, more than double most years.

The only positive side for some is a small bump in profits from the increased traffic.