Rockford bridges not threatened by projected flood increases

By Jim Hagerty

ROCKFORD — The height of inland bridges is now a point of discussion as projected floods sparked by climate change have a number of cities hard at work to raise existing structures.

Cities like Milwaukee, which is raising some bridges as part of a 28-community federal flood management project, are taking advantage of funds through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to make the improvements although there is no federal mandate in place.

In Rockford, officials have reviewed the city’s flood maps and say there is no threat here.

“We have evaluated the flood maps, but we don’t feel they are going to affect our bridges,” City Engineer Jeremy Carter said. “And the bridges all meet federal requirements.”

The city replaced a bridge at Railroad Avenue two years ago and raised it slightly to accommodate the flood map change.

According to reports centered on climate control, the rules of flood mitigation is ever changing. Scientists say heavier, tropical-like storms will increase over inland populations in coming years.

Officials are concerned that once was a 20-year storm cycle will be reduced to four-to-six years by the end of the 21st century. Snowfall patterns and early river-melting is said to increase along the way.

“Between 1958 and 2007, for example, the Southeast and Southwest experienced more drought even while overall precipitation across the country increased an average of five percent,” according to an organization called the Union of Concerned Citizens.

However, the push to raise bridges is more about location instead of across-the-board reconstruction efforts.

“A lot of these (inland bridges) are not the kind of places that people are used to thinking of being in the forefront of climate change,” Jim Schwab, Hazards Planning Center at the American Planning Association, told national media.

And while flooding does happen along the Rock River, Carter says the area’s existing flood mitigation systems have been effective.

“We can control how high the river gets with our dams.”

Last winter, patches of warm weather that followed a massive cold front created a series of ice jams in the river. Although the jams were prevalent in Rockford, they posed bigger threats south of the city near Byron.

Ice jams are caused when water builds up behind floating chunks of ice resulting in rising river levels and threats of flooding. The problem worsens when ice gets hung up on dams, river bends and bridges.

According to FEMA, about 1,500 bridges are reconstructed each year in the United States for a multitude of reasons. R.

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