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Drainage work has made a difference, residents and business owners say

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    MOBILE, Alabama (WALA) — A massive upgrade to Florida Street disrupted commerce for 14 months and caused headaches for business owners and consumers, alike, but some say the work has reduced flooding.

City officials hope to get similar results on an even more ambitious project under way on Broad Street.

James Barber, chief of staff to Mayor Sandy Stimpson, said it is hard to know what the final cost of the work will be.

“Every time we peel back a layer on that, because it’s so old, they’re finding a lot of, you know, unforeseeable issues,” he said.

Such is par for course for a city whose infrastructure is so old that it still has wooden pipes in some parts, Barber said.

“And so, look at a very vast network, a 300-year-old drainage system that’s all been piecemealed together,” he told FOX10 News. “And so there’s a lot of effort into making sure that we change out that infrastructure. And again, a lot of the flooding that you see isn’t because of drainage in that area but something happening downstream.”

The Florida Street work drew angry complaints in 2018 and 2019 from businesses along the heavily traversed route because of the time it took to complete.

“It was trying, for sure,” said Lindsey Stiegler, owner of Soiree Signatures. “There was no traffic. You know, the street was blocked on both sides of Florida Street. We would have to kind of figure out interesting ways to get to our building some days.”

Not exactly a great way to start a new venture, Stiegler said. She said she bought the building to house her graphic design studio specializing in invitations and party printables about six months before the work began.

But Stiegler said the project seems to have delivered on its promise. Previously, she said, the street routinely would flood and water sometimes would make it into the building where Penelope’s Closet used to be. Since the project, Stiegler said, she can recall only one really bad storm that flooded the street after the city completed the work.

“Since then, everything seems to be flowing really well,” she said. “I don’t ever really notice any major puddles or anything. But the flow of traffic is also really good.”

Big-ticket projects are only one part of a multifaceted strategy for reducing perennial flooding in low-lying sections of the city. The city is spending tens of millions of dollars. The Department of Public Works has purchased four additional vacuum trucks since 2019. That has significantly increased the number of drains that city workers can clean. Last year and in 2019, the city also completed the following work:

Improved 66 miles of ditches.
Cleaned 10,449 drains.
Closed 9,700 linear feet of ditches.
Repaired or replaced 5,800 linear feet of concrete ditches.

City officials said they plan to use money from a fund collected from money paid by BP after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to pay for a comprehensive GPS mapping of every existing piece of stormwater infrastructure. That will help planners identify vulnerable areas, Barber said.

Mobile has completed smaller-scale upgrades of its stormwater drainage system in residential neighborhoods. Laura McMahon Fulford, who lives on Grand Boulevard, said the standing water on the street after heavy rain Friday morning was nothing compared to what use to happened before the drainage work.

“It would just kind of like plop in and I would not be able to; it would just sort of flood out the bottom of my car,” she said. “So it’s actually made a really big difference what they did.”

McMahon Fulford said it is not perfect – but noticeably better.

“It was sort of those conditions where they say don’t drive, because you can’t tell if the road is still there,” she said. “It was, like, it was pretty high. I think there was one time I walked up and it was like, up to, like about here. If I were down, it was like basically covering up into my shoes.”

Barber said a project on Ann Street between Virginia and Tennessee streets will be key to alleviating flooding in Midtown.

“The reason that is so important is because much of the drainage system in the Midtown area funnels down through that particular drain on Ann Street. And so, that will have a vast improvement for Midtown.”

As for the Broad Street work, city officials said the six-phase project will run until 2023. Here is a rough estimate of the costs and timeline for the project:

Phases 1-2. Broad Street from Church Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, and Beauregard Street to MLK Jr. Avenue to Lawrence Street. It is projected to cost $19.6 million.

Expected completion date: January 2022.

Phase 3: Broad Street from Baltimore Street to just south of Canal Street.

Expected completion date: summer 2022; with additional work not in current design slated for 2023.

Phase 4: MLK Jr. Avenue from Butchers Lane to Beauregard Street

Expected completion date: end of 2020, with work starting at the beginning of the year.

Phase 5: Beauregard Street from Lawrence Street to Water Street.

Expected completion date: Summer 2021, with working started May 2021. This $500,000 project is an Alabama Department of Transportation project.

Phase 6: Roundabout installation at Canal & Broad streets. This completed project cost $2.3 million.

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