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Saturday, Nov 18, 2017
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Turnpike authority reviews flooded Suncoast Parkway

SPRING HILL - The Florida Turnpike Authority wants to find out why a major evacuation route flooded and needed to close for 10 days because of Tropical Storm Debby. A section of the Suncoast Parkway, north of State Road 50 in Hernando County, looked more like a waterway as flood waters submerged the road. Christa Deason, authority spokeswoman, said what compounded the problem is that along with rising flood waters, the parkway took on water from adjacent properties. "We were able to handle our own water, but not able to handle water coming from other areas," she said.
The agency will meet with the Southwest Florida Water Management District to find out what happened. "We will be conducting a study to determine where the water came from, if it could be prevented and how to mitigate it and make sure it doesn't happen again," she said. She pointed out the parkway can handle up to 6.8 inches of rain a day for five days. She said it received more than that during a three-day span. As a result, a road counted on as a major evacuation route was blocked. It remained underwater and closed for 10 days. The authority pumped 90 million to 100 million gallons of water off the parkway, Deason said. "It is of concern to us,'' Deason said. "We want to keep that road open and make sure it is open to traffic." The Suncoast Parkway wasn't the only major thoroughfare shut down by Debby. Debby, a moderate tropical storm that made landfall far north of Tampa Bay, caused temporary closures of the Howard Frankland Bridge, Courtney Campbell Parkway and Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Emergency managers said the closures point out the need to either evacuate early if a more dangerous storm approaches or make plans to go to a shelter. As for the Suncoast Parkway, experts tested the road's strength after it was under water for more than a week. Those tests caused some depressions to open up on the shoulders, Deason said, adding that crews poured crushed rock into them. Judy Sanchez, who lives near the parkway, can't imagine what would happen if the road closed during an evacuation. "Under normal use it's busy, so under an evacuation (traffic) would have to double and triple, and you'd have panic and then you'd have road rage. Scary, very scary," she said. Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis is also in charge of the county's emergency management office. Nienhuis said anytime a road is blocked is cause for concern. "Any road that goes north or east is going to be important," Nienhuis said. In most cases, evacuations are ordered before hurricanes or large storms strike, he said. If the Suncoast flooded during an evacuation, Nienhuis thinks a key would be getting people to State Road 50. "It's a pretty easy road to travel, especially in an emergency. We'd be able to shut down some intersections and we could get a lot of people off the Suncoast," he said. The plan would be to send people either east or west on State Road 50 to U.S. 19, U.S. 41 or Interstate 75. "It's not something that is going to cause us so much grief that we're not going to be able to evacuate people out of the Tampa Bay area,'' he said. "It's one of many roads, but we are concerned."

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