Flooding has plagued Houston roadways for decades, but now, thanks to a first-of-its-kind warning system initiated by Houston TranStar and developed by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), motorists will be warned in real time about locations where roadway flooding is likely occurring.
“Houston was ground zero for Hurricane Harvey last year, and the world watched as motorists and residents were caught up in floodwaters caused by up to 50 inches of rain,” Mike Vickich, TTI senior systems analyst, explains. “Although the problems we experienced were magnified because of Harvey, Houston is well-known for its street flooding. With this new warning system — which was the brainchild of TranStar Executive Director Dinah Massie — it’s a game changer for what it could mean for the safety of motorists.”
Massie says she got the idea of improving and merging data from existing flood sensors onto the TranStar system during the aftermath of the hurricane.
“People on social media wondered why they couldn’t be warned of flooding on Houston streets, just like they are on the major highways through town,” she said. “As I found out, the Harris County Flood Control District maintains 170 rain sensors around town. I thought, ‘why can’t we utilize what we have, develop the data that can be part of TranStar, and, with the help of TTI, develop a roadway flood warning system.’”
Soon after the waters subsided from Harvey, Massie and Vickich met with the Harris County Judge, officials from the Texas Department of Transportation and TranStar’s chief meteorologist. Just nine months after the meeting, in July 2018, the Roadway Flood Warning System was up and running on the TranStar website on a test basis. During the July 4th flooding, the system “worked flawlessly.”
“We determined that if an area receives eight-tenths of an inch of rain in 15 minutes, that’s enough to cause flooded streets in and around that sensor,” Vickich explains. “That’s when the warning will be issued and placed on TranStar’s traffic map.”
Residents are able to view the warning areas by accessing the TranStar site or through the mobile app, but Houston media will also relay the warnings on their radio and television broadcasts. The information will also be spread on social media.
Details of the new Roadway Flood Warning System were announced at a Houston news conference July 25. Since then, TranStar has received inquiries from other cities that have similar problems with flooding.
“I believe this new system is a great example of how governments and other entities, like TTI, can work together to really make a difference in the safety of the public,” Vickich says.