|Hurricane Nicole coverage: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Damage assessment, Part I | Damage assessment, Part II | A1A Reopens|
It’s not quite as impressive as building the 1,600 miles of the Alaska Highway in 244 days, but the repairs of 4.8 miles of State Road A1A in three segments ravaged by Hurricane Nicole is not a small achievement: the road reopened to traffic in both directions Saturday evening just four days after the storm made the road impassable. Contractors were already at work dumping sand even as Nicole was lashing at the coast on Thursday.
“This is a completely unheard of and amazing coordination of manpower and equipment the scale I have never seen from FDOT ever,” Flagler Beach City Commissioner Eric Cooley said. “This is huge and unprecedented. We as a city need to bring all involved to Thursday’s meeting and thank them.”
The road is the responsibility of the Florida Department of Transportation, which contracted with P&S Paving and Halifax Paving of Daytona Beach to conduct the emergency repairs. According to DOT, 600 truckloads brought in nearly 11,000 cubic yards of sand to fill in gaping carveouts in the road and reinforce damaged shoulders.
County officials credited Christine Barone, the FDOT District 5 operations engineer, for getting it done. “She’s unbelievable,” County Attorney Al Hadeed said on Thursday while standing on A1A near trucks dumping sand, and after completing an evaluation tour of the coastline with County Engineer Faith al-Khatib. “They have been an amazing team to work with and they mobilized all the resources they can mobilize to get it done,” al-Khatib said. (See: “Nicole’s Damage to A1A ‘Much Worse’ Than Matthew, Over Longer Stretch; Parts of Flagler Beach Flood.”)
DOT has not provided the dollar figures for the emergency contracts. But a two-week project by the agency just before the storm, dropping truckloads of sand south of the Flagler Beach water tower in hopes of reinforcing the road shoulder, had cost $125 a cubic yard, according to al-Khatib. That would put the cost of the post-Nicole sands at around $1.3 million. (DOT did not provide information requested on Nov. 4 about the pre-Nicole sand operation.) Nicole washed that sand entirely.
The three stretches of road that saw emergency repairs were:
- South 7th to South 28th Street: 2.5 miles.
- South Central Avenue in Flagler Beach to Highbridge Road in Volusia County: 1.9 miles.
- Wisteria Drive to Sunny Beach Drive in Ormond by the Sea: 0.4 mile.
According to DOT’s latest data, the stretch of A1A from State Road 100 to South 14th Street has an average daily traffic load of 9,200 vehicles, falling to 5,000 daily vehicles for the stretch between South 14th and Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area and to the county line. (For comparison’s sake, I-95 in Flagler has a daily average of just under 100,000 vehicles, and U.S. 1 is in the range of 12,000 vehicles per day.) A1A a vital artery for Flagler Beach businesses–motels, restaurants, shops–and for its tourism.
The emergency repairs are only temporary, and are unlikely to hold the road even through mild storms or strong high tide events. “Permanent repairs will begin as soon as emergency repairs are completed,” a DOT spokesperson said. The scope, design and cost of those repairs are not known.
The method mirrors DOT’s approach in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, which shredded a 1.5-mile segment of A1A in 2016, from South 9th Street to South 22nd. The transportation department hired Halifax Paving to cobble the road back together through emergency repairs, with a $4 million, 45-day contract. Halifax got the job done in two weeks, lured by an extra $1 million bonus if it did so, and giving then-Gov. Rick Scott a chance to boast about reopening the road ahead of schedule.
What DOT then referred to as “permanent” repairs–a term that factually cannot apply to any work on State Road A1A for more than a few years–was conducted over 300 days on the 1.5-mile segment. It was redesigned with a median and more rocks were dropped below the road’s shoulder in a $22.4 million project that also included building a sea wall at the north end of town. The rebuilding project was carried out just as Flagler County was carrying out its own, $20 million dune-reconstruction on 11 miles of shoreline, from the north end of the county down to Beverly Beach.
Between the state’s and the county’s projects, coastal protection had cost nearly $50 million to repair the damages of Hurricane Matthew. That money’s efforts have now mostly washed away.
Even before Hurricane Ian struck, the county’s replenished sands were largely gone, and further, damaging erosion was taking place even without storms striking, as was the case just north of the pier in July and August. The erosion was so striking that the Flagler Beach City Commission called an emergency meeting, though little was accomplished as a result. (See: “Massive Erosion Strikes North and South of Pier; Flagler Beach Commission Calls Emergency Meeting” and “‘Disturbing’ Beach Erosion Near Pier Meets Split and Muddled Response from Flagler Beach Commission.”)
Even then, a substantial dune shelf of some 25 feet remained along the boardwalk north of the pier. Ian removed that, as it removed remaining dunes up and down the coast to an unprecedented degree, leaving the shoreline extremely vulnerable to destruction. (See: “Catastrophic Loss: Dunes All But Gone Along Flagler’s 18-Mile Shore, Leaving A1A and Properties Dangerously Exposed.”)
Nicole has since dug further into the road bed north of the pier, which was not touched by the latest emergency repairs and remains vulnerable to collapse.
As had his predecessor, Gov. Ron DeSantis was all boasts after DOT reopened A1A Saturday. After touring Volusia’s damage, he had stopped locally to view the damage in Flagler County in a brief late-afternoon swing on Friday afternoon with Rep. Paul Renner and Kevin Guthrie, the director of Florida’s emergency management division. (Guthrie is the keynote speaker at Flagler Tiger Bay’s November 16 lunch at Channel Side in Palm Coast.)
The latest emergency repairs do not address the vulnerabilities to homes and the road in general. (See: “Devastation on Flagler’s Coastline: Houses and Roadbeds Hanging on Sand Cliffs, Vanished Dunes, Yards Turned Beach.”) The state and the county are aware. A beach-management study is sitting on county desks, awaiting action. The Flagler County Commission, which has not responded to the last years’ disappearance of dunes with the sort of urgency residents might expect, has yet to adopt a feasible long-term plan with adequate financing. (See: “Study: Flagler’s Beaches Are Eroding Critically, and Will Cost County Alone $5 to $13 Million a Year to Slow.”)
But for now, and until the next storm, A1A is reopened again, to the city’s and county’s delight.
“I just drove from my office straight down A1A all the way down to High Bridge Road without interruption,” Flagler Beach attorney Scott Spradley said Saturday evening. “I have no idea how DOT did that. But hats off to the effort.”
Below is county drone footage of the damaged shoreline as DOT was repairing the road.