Following months of record rainfall and subsequent widespread flooding, dozens of highways remain closed in the region as the swollen Missouri River inches lower while staying steadily above flood stage.
In St. Joseph, Missouri, the river sat around 24 feet Monday evening after jumping up 2 feet following this weekend’s rainfall, which dumped 2 to 6 inches of torrential rain over an already soaked basin. The Missouri River is forecast to fall — slightly — this week, but is expected to deliver moderate flooding into at least next week. Any additional rainfall would likely alter the river’s descent.
Although water may be receding, it’s not going down fast enough for motorists having to navigate through an unprecedented number of closures. This includes five crossings over the raging river in Northwest Missouri.
And while the bridges are closed, the region’s top transportation authority said it wasn’t because water was over-topping them, or even damaging their structural integrity.
“The bridges are OK,” said Chris Redline, district engineer with the Missouri Department of Transportation. “It’s actually the roads leading to the bridges that’s the problem, they are underwater, or damaged so bad that we can’t have traffic on them.”
The unrelenting rainfall wasn’t helpful in MoDOT’s effort to reopen routes like U.S. Highway 59 in southern Buchanan County. The excess rainfall doesn’t have a place to go, leaving low-lying areas near major drainage systems flooded.
Monday, the river had overtaken a 1-mile stretch of Highway 59 leading up to the bridge on the Missouri side.
Outside of a brief period of a couple of weeks, the heavily traveled route into Atchison, Kansas, has been closed for most of the spring and summer. A MoDOT employee stationed near the barricade quipped that it turns a 4-minute drive into a 45-minute or even an hour detour.
“The detours are massive, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Redline. “These roads are still flooded.”
Redline pleaded with motorists to obey road closure signage and to not drive through — or remove — barricades leading into a submerged route.