The multi-million dollar investment that could help prevent flooding disasters, but is it enough?

Posted at 5:42 PM, Feb 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-17 19:48:45-04

(WXYZ) — Governor Whitmer’s massive $74 billion budget includes significant infrastructure investments to bridges and roads. Included, a $66-million fix to help prevent what we saw in metro Detroit last summer.

“Yeah, it was actually submerged under like 10 ft. of water. I was at the deepest point on 94 just before the Livernois exit and several cars down there. And if you look on the other side, you can see where it was so flooded the cars hit the car underneath because they couldn't even see,” said flood victim Ronald Foster.

We talked with Ronald Foster as he was working to get his damaged car back last summer.

“Channel 7 has been here from the beginning to the end, from the towing process to even now,” said Foster.

His car was one of dozens caught up in the flood. The worst flooding we’ve seen in Southeast Michigan since 2014.

Highway arteries in and around Detroit and cars on them submerged back in late June.

A significant contributing factor - freeway pump stations failing - not because of anything mechanical, but rather a loss of power to them.

As the flooding unfolded - we questioned MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) live on air about the issue:

“It’s not so much a failure of the pump house it’s a failure of power or too much water coming in in a short amount of time,” said MDOT spokesperson Diane Cross back in June 2021.

“So those generators are not automatic for those pump houses then?” asked WXYZ’s Brian Abel.

“They are not, they are quite an expensive piece of equipment,” said Cross. “We just couldn’t possibly afford to have generators sitting in all 140 pump houses.”

Now, that may change. Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s budget proposal provides pump station funding specifically for generators.

A $66-million chunk of the $74 billion proposal.

WXYZ was granted access to see first-hand what the funding could do and how these stations work, starting with the remote monitoring system.

“It'll tell us right away if there is a power outage, we know we've got to man a generator,” said Rob Bollin, Electrician for Wayne County Bridge Dept.

WXYZ's Brian Abel asked the question: "If there's no power then you're basically out of luck until you get the generators?"

“Yeah, pretty much, and we got to drive around the same roads that everybody else does, trying to find the fastest way to get out here,” added Bollin.

“What would it have looked like back in June if all of those pump stations had power?” said Ishrat Jahan, MDOT Operations.

“So back in June, we had 70 locations that was flooded. If we - if the pump station were working and we didn't have widespread power outage, we wouldn't have had 70

“So, we would not have seen as strong of highway flooding as we did see,” said Abel.

$66 million could protect against the power grid going dark during flooding but that's just one hurdle.

"This is the motor. It'll start, it'll spin. It'll spin the pump and the pump draws water up and gets it off the discharge tube,” said Bollin.

“Where's this thing headed?” asked Abel.

“This is headed to the river,” said Bollin. “As long as the river has room, it is heading to the river when it doesn't have room.”

“Then what happens?” asked Abel.

“We have some issues,” said Bollin.

“Aside from power. There are two things that are happening that that could prevent that could prevent you from preventing flooding. One being capacity that pump stations like this can only pump out so much water at a time. But then also, if everything is flooded, then there's nowhere to pump the water to,” said Abel.

“Correct. So, if the rainfall is too much and our outlets are full like rivers or the city systems, of course, then we cannot pump out the water and the water has nowhere to go. So, we have to increase the capacity,” said Jahan.

That's what’s happening at the I-75 modernization project.

MDOT slowly addresses the capacity issue by building a drainage tunnel. Giving the excess water a place to go. A holding tank of sorts.

At this point, you may be asking why this isn’t being done more or sooner.

“How much would it cost to increase all of those things that what happened back in June doesn't happen again?” asked Abel.

“Well, I tell you, it's going to be a billion-dollar,” said Jahan.

“A billion dollars?” asked Abel.

“Billion dollars,” replied Jahan.

“Is a billion dollars coming to MDOT?” asked Abel.

“Not at the moment,” said Jahan.

For flood victims like Ronald Foster, any progress, like the generators, is welcomed.

“I think that it needs to be pushed through immediately to avoid any further disasters. We don't need history to repeat itself,” said. Foster.

Now that billions estimate is over decades, any investment including the $66 million for the generators isn’t a given. The Legislature and the Governor have to agree on a budget including the infrastructure projects before any cash will flow to MDOT.