On May 5, 1995, a torrential rainstorm caused flooding along McFarlin Boulevard in University Park, killing an elementary school teacher whose car was washed away.
Almost 20 years after that tragedy, the city is taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Preliminary work already has already started on an extensive project to construct a dam that will help curtail flooding from the Turtle Creek in Williams Park, and a bridge on McFarlin that will raise the roadway between Park Street and Williams Parkway.
For two decades, the city hasn’t been able to fund such a project on its own. So the catalyst was a new property owner about 300 feet downstream, who agreed to help replace the existing McElvaney Dam. The homeowner will pay for a new collapsible dam, which the city will maintain and operate. The city must build the bridge as part of the agreement.
“As water comes up, the dam would lay down,” said Bud Smallwood, UP director of public works. “That, combined with a bridge, would allow water to free-flow into the channel.”
There’s currently a 3.5-foot difference in the water level between the north and south sides of McFarlin. Smallwood said the collapsible dam will fix that disparity and significantly reduce the width of the flood plain.
The 1995 storm, which brought water levels more than 5 feet above street level, was a freak occurrence that hasn’t been repeated since. In the meantime, the city uses a radar unit that senses the water level on McFarlin, and barricades the street when high water is anticipated.
“Every time it rains, it makes me nervous,” said UP city manager Robbie Corder. “We couldn’t afford this project before. It’s a true public-private partnership.”
The city will spend about $3.5 million on the bridge project, with the result mirroring the bridge on University Boulevard one block to the north. This one would be 30 feet wider than the roadway — in accordance with federal regulations — allowing for significant landscaping (such as trees, decorating lighting, benches, masonry, and sidewalks) along with wrought-iron guardrails.
“It will be a nice streetscape with grass and walking areas,” Smallwood said. “It’s something that’s really going to benefit the city and private property owners.”
As part of the project, the city will replace the existing peninsula in Williams Park with an island and a pedestrian bridge.
The dam project is slated to begin in late December, with bridge construction scheduled to start in April. The street will be closed and the Williams Park pond will be dry for about nine months, with completion expected around January 2016.
This story appears in the January edition of Park Cities People, on stands now.