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Posted on: November 18, 2020


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In a special workshop, the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) learned that 49 percent of the roadways in unincorporated Monroe County are subject to sea-level rise by the year 2045. The preliminary cost estimate to elevate these roads is $1.8 billion. 
After hearing a detailed presentation on the progress of the Monroe County Roadway Vulnerability Study, the commissioners directed staff to move forward with the proposed vulnerability and criticality ranking criteria and methodology developed under the study. The County will now transition from the preliminary ranking process of the 311 miles of county-maintained roads to the conceptual design phase, where a variety of concepts and designs of what potential road elevations could look like throughout the Florida Keys will be developed.
Monroe County selected the NOAA Intermediate-High sea-level rise projection provided by the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact’s unified sea level rise projections released in 2019, which predicts 13 additional inches of sea-level rise from the year 2020 to 2045, 11 more inches from 2045 to 2060, and 43 more inches from 2060 to 2100, totaling 67 inches from 2020 to 2100. 
Using these estimates, the study determined that 49 percent of the 311 miles of county-maintained roadways would be affected by sea-level rise by 2045. These vulnerable roadways provide access to 71 percent of the county’s housing units. The study also showed that 66 percent of the roadways and 82 percent of the housing units will be affected by 2060 and in 2100 the number rises to 81 percent of the roads and 92 percent of the housing units. 
The ranking of the 311 miles of county roads involved a two-step process. Step 1 ranked the roads using various “vulnerability” criteria, which included sea-level rise inundation, groundwater clearance, storm surge, surface wave impact, and existing pavement condition determination. Step 2 then re-ranked the roads using various “criticality” criteria, which included the initial vulnerability score and added in the number of residential units on the roads, critical facilities, commercial building, threatened and endangered species, natural habitat classifications, and established evacuation routes.
“When looking at potential adaptations to the county’s road infrastructure, this process will determine which roads need to be elevated by 2045, how high they need to be elevated,  and when they need to be elevated,” said Monroe County Chief Resilience Officer Rhonda Haag. “This will greatly enhance the resiliency of the Florida Keys.”
Areas pinpointed include well-known areas of concern in Big Pine Key, Duck Key, and Key Largo, but vulnerable roads were identified throughout the Florida Keys. 
“The next step is to identify what designs will work and where, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution,” said Monroe County Engineering and Roads Director Judy Clarke. “When raising roads, we need to capture the stormwater runoff and analyze accessibility, existing elevations, utilities, right-of-way impacts, and more.” 
Private property owners may need to partner with the County’s efforts for long-term resiliency. 
“The best way we can achieve resilience is when countywide adaptation efforts work in conjunction with private property owner’s responses,” said Erin Deady, a sub-consultant on the HDR consulting team. “Private homeowners may need to respond by elevating their private structures and/or determining if their lot can be filled.”
The preliminary cost estimate will be further analyzed as modeling and conceptual design continues. In yesterday’s BOCC meeting, various funding options for county resiliency projects were presented. State and federal sources, local infrastructure sales tax initiatives, and individual assessments were all reviewed. An estimated 65 percent of sales tax revenue in the county is paid by visitors to the Florida Keys, which takes a significant burden off local residents. 
“We absolutely need public participation involvement and buy-in for these projects to go forward,” said Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi. “This will be a transparent process looking into the costs and funding of the implementation.”
Staff will come back in the spring of 2021 to present the various conceptual designs of road elevations. A draft Roads Adaptation Plan and Implementation Strategy could come before the board in the fall of 2021. In the meantime, the County is working on a funding plan for the large-scale resilience projects. The County has pending state and federal grant applications in for its pilot road elevations projects in the Twin Lakes and Sands subdivisions, and an application in regarding Stillwright Point. The County also has a planning grant application submitted to provide similar roads adaptation planning services for the five municipalities in the Florida Keys.

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