Elevating Roads in Norfolk, Virginia

The Norfolk, Virginia Department of Public Works invested $2.4 million to improve two waterfront streets, Brambleton and Colley Avenues, to reduce flood impacts.  To reduce tidal flooding of the roadway the city elevated and widened Brambleton Avenue and rebuilt the intersection of Brambleton and Colley Avenues. Brambleton Avenue is a principal artery in downtown Norfolk that runs along the Elizabeth River and crosses over an inlet called the Hague.  The project was implemented to address recurrent flooding that was already occurring in the area, which has caused frequent road closures. The area is flooding 2 to 3 times more frequently than it did in 1980, and is routinely flooded for 200 to 300 hours per year. The project was identified in Norfolk’s Coastal Resilience Strategy as an example of structural projects that has successfully helped mitigate flood risk.

Norfolk is located in the Hampton Roads metropolitan region of Virginia along the Chesapeake Bay and is bypassed by two rivers, the Elizabeth and Lafayette rivers. The city has 144 miles of shoreline, including 7 miles along the Chesapeake Bay. The city is the home to the Norfolk Naval Station, one of the largest naval bases in the U.S.  The Hampton Roads region is considered to be one of the areas in the U.S. most vulnerable to climate change impacts.  Norfolk has a low-lying topography and land in the area is subsiding. Sea levels in the area have risen 1.5 feet over the past century and are rising faster than anywhere else along the East Coast. Some areas of the community already regularly flood at high tide, and the area is susceptible to coastal hazards such as flooding, erosion, hurricanes and nor’easters.

From the project documents, it is unclear whether future sea-level rise in the area was studied to inform the project design.  However, several Norfolk and Hampton Roads planning documents assess the long-term threats of sea-level rise in the region.  The Hampton Roads Regional Planning Commission produced a series of studies assessing local projections for sea-level rise in the region and impacts, including impacts to transportation infrastructure. 

The city has also invested in other projects to elevate roads, including a project to elevate a roadway over an inlet off Lafayette River near Haven Creek, at cost of $1million. In the city’s 2012-2016 Capital Improvement Plan, the city budgeted to spend $4.5 million over four years to address street flooding citywide. The 2012 plan also explicitly acknowledges the adaptive purpose of the investment, stating that the investment is a “cost effective measure to address rising sea levels.”  The plan also provided $6.5 million to fund beach stabilization and shoreline erosion control projects to ensure that public and private properties are protected from “accelerated shoreline erosion.” In 2014, the city established a flooding reserve to fund citywide flood mitigation projects by assessing a $1 stormwater fee.

 

This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on June 11, 2015.

 

Publication Date: February 2014

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  • City of Norfolk, Virginia

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  • Case study

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