If you’ve ever been caught out driving in a Houston downpour, you can relate to Carmen Estrella. We talked with her back in May, one of thousands of drivers stranded by a huge storm.
“It came so fast, all of a sudden. I was afraid. What if a real bad flash flood comes and takes the car away and I’ll be in the bayou?” Estrella asked News 88.7.
“We’ve always known there was a problem,” said Eric Dargan, deputy director of Houston’s Street and Drainage Division.
His crews are nearly done installing the city’s first ever electronic gates at underpasses; underpasses that have for years flooded during rainstorms. One location is Houston Avenue where it dips under Memorial Drive.
In the past, the city would wait for someone to report the flooding, then send out a crew to put up a barricade.
“We try to respond as quickly as possible. But now using the technology, we can be proactive and at least warn the public,” Dargan said.
When electronic sensors detect flooding, warning lights will flash and a gate will lower, like at a railroad crossing. Dargan said as funds become available, the city plans to put the gates at a total of 27 flood-prone underpasses.
Some other locations include 7506 East Hardy, 5405 Mesa, Shepherd at Memorial, Houston Avenue at Center, Main at Brooks, and Clinton at N. Wayside.
But the underpass warnings are only part of a county-wide effort to provide better warning of flooded roadways.
“We are at the final stage right now for testing,” said Gino Lim at the University of Houston’s College of Engineering.
Lim is working on a web-based system to use some 350 floodwater sensors across Harris County to show exactly where water is covering roadways — data that can be then displayed on online traffic maps.
“That shows you in real time where’s the flooding then you can avoid the routes,” said Lim.
The new Flood Information Graphical System (FIGS) should be operating in coming months.