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How could flooding & standing water affect long-term road conditions on I-94?

Posted at 2:26 PM, Jun 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-29 14:26:08-04

(WSYM) — You can see pavement now all along I-94 as crews continue to clean up the debris and tow waterlogged vehicles. But how does all that standing water impact the integrity of the road moving forward?

One expert says it could potentially weaken the pavement, leading to more repairs and shortened longevity of the road.

Rain falling hard and fast combined with aging infrastructure filled metro Detroit freeways fast.

In some spots, water appeared to be 8 or 9 feet deep and flooding stretched for miles along, I-94 trapping cars and semi-trucks for days.

“All that water just sitting there, it’s really not good at all,” says Zach Stevens, a 3rd generation owner of Black Rock Paving in Canton, Michigan.

He says roads are usually built in layers for strength and durability.

This much standing water, for an extended period of time, can weaken or wash away the sublayer and wear down the top layer.

“Think about all the weight of that water, just sitting there, never moved,” he says.

Tuesday is day four of the freeway closure, the water has finally drained and crews are cleaning up the damaged vehicles and debris.

Just because the flood is gone doesn’t mean the problems are, especially in areas where the pavement is cracked.

“Deteriorated areas, where the rocks gather and it’s loose, all that water just sitting there, is going to peel it back, it will get in there underneath and create a loose area where it gets soft and it’ll wash out,” says Stevens, if dirt and gravel beneath the surface wash away, the pavement loses its support and becomes weaker.

“Then when semi‘s come through and other cars come through, it’s going to shake everything underneath and then (eventually) what’s gonna happen is the asphalt going to fold,” says Stevens, causing big problems and big potholes.

So how do you inspect the integrity of the road?

For such a long stretch of freeway, a visual inspection is likely all that can be done he says. Methods to inspect the sublayers could end up doing more harm than good.

Stevens says time will reveal the extent of the damage beneath the surface, this flood likely shaved years of the life of the road.

“I wouldn’t say you’d have to be nervous driving over it once the water is gone, but it’s gonna end up costing everybody more money in the long run, that’s the thing,” says Stevens.

Michigan State police say MDOT crews are inspecting the pavement as they clean the freeway.

Stevens says they’re likely looking for immediate signs of deterioration, areas that may have sunk or buckled.

If everything looks good, once the remainders of the flood debris are cleaned, I-94 will re-open.