Flooding after Ida brings new focus on Philadelphia's aging infrastructure

The images of a flooded Venice canal-esque Vine Street Expressway in Philadelphia won't soon be forgotten.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The images of a flooded Venice Canal-esque Vine Street Expressway in Philadelphia won't soon be forgotten.

The deluge brought on by the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida, combined with aging infrastructure and equipment, created the perfect environment for the destruction.

To that end, environmental experts agree that with climate change, events like these could easily become the norm.

"This is absolutely a wake-up call. Unfortunately, what we've seen over the last few months all over the country - all over the world - are these type of events in lots of different contexts," said Drexel University Professor in the Department of Civil Architectural and Environmental Engineering Franco Montalto.

Montalto said the solution is not necessarily just found in tearing up the old, so to speak, and building new infrastructure.

"We can't just make pipes bigger everywhere. We can't just reconfigure the entire drainage system of the city overnight. It's not necessarily effective, it's not necessarily cost-effective," Montalto said.

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Instead, he said a more neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach is perhaps wiser to address areas that may flood more easily.

In a response to a series of questions about the flooding, Philadelphia Water Department officials noted the area is in the midst of improvement planning for the city's waste, drink, and stormwater systems.

Officials also stated that because of where the city is in relation to the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, and based on decisions made in the past, they can't stop major flooding from occurring.

However, they are following the science and have been building on what is known as green infrastructure to help keep excess overflow in check.

Villanova professor of civil and environmental engineering Robert Traver has been helping with one space set up by the city and PennDOT in Fishtown.

"We are getting rid of a lot of water. You're not getting rid of nine inches of water but we're getting rid of a lot of water," Traver said.

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In short, he said, planning for the future is key as is understanding our climate as it changes.

"We need to continue to look at this as a system. It's not one thing that's going to solve it," he added.

Traver said, all things considered, it's better that the water flooded the roadway as opposed to homes.

Funding is also critical. At this point, it remains unknown how much the city will get from the Biden Administration's infrastructure bill.
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