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Road Runner: With warnings in place, onus is on drivers to heed flood risks
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Road runner

Road Runner: With warnings in place, onus is on drivers to heed flood risks

A truck driving south on Tucson Boulevard near Mitchell Street kicks up water following a monsoon storm Thursday. Officials warn that what might look like 3 or 4 inches of water could actually be a deep hole.

It was a busy end to the work week for Tucson firefighters who responded to several swift water rescues during the first major monsoon storm.

“We responded to six water rescues, and it was kind of unique because they were all in different parts of town, really a lot of running around for crews. It definitely can put a little strain on resources,” said Michael Colaianni, a fire department spokesman.

He added: “We only have so many people that can be on certain calls at a time, so we can make sure we maintain service in other ways. We’re just encouraging people to do as much as they can to stay safe, so they can keep us safe and make sure that we’ll be there in a situation when they really need us.”

The National Weather Service says it should be “prime-time” monsoon season through mid-August, with flash flooding being an area of main concern in Southern Arizona.

Conditions could be ripe for storms to develop during the afternoons as well as “in the middle of the night, early in the morning, or redevelop repeatedly over the same general area,” weather officials say.

It’s a reason why Tucson officials are stressing to drivers to heed their warnings and have the safety of themselves and others at the forefront of their minds.

In preparation for roads potentially becoming impassible, the Tucson Department of Transportation and Mobility initiated “Operation Splash” to protect motorists and surrounding properties near these areas.

Crews have cleared debris in washes to prevent flowing water from being clogged and overflowing to nearby homes and other properties. They also have set up more than 500 barriers at 150 low-lying areas to close roads when needed.

“When the storms hit, our staff (will) leave their houses, and they’ll start going out monitoring and driving around the city looking for these dip crossings that are flowing with stormwater,” said Michael Graham, a spokesman for the Tucson transportation department.

Crews are on call 24/7 to respond to these areas around town. You likely have seen these barriers signaling “Road Closed” and “Flood Area” lining the sides of roads.

Graham said the purpose is for motorists to understand the severe risks of crossing these dangerous areas, which is summed up in the department’s motto: “Turn around, don’t drown.”

He noted that motorists should remember when driving that road conditions are not always what they seem.

“When you come to a dip crossing that’s got 3 or 4 inches of water in it, what the person doesn’t know is what happened an hour earlier,” Graham said. “There could have been 4 feet of water coming through that crossing. It could have completely washed away the asphalt, and what may look like 3 to 4 inches of water could actually be a deep hole.”

Disobeying these road hazards could come at a cost, too, according to the commonly known “Stupid Motorist Law” passed by the state in 1995.

It permits agencies to collect up to $2,000 for water rescues if motorists get stuck after purposely driving into flooded areas.

Report storm damage

The Tucson transportation department says it is ready to respond to storm-related damage in city right-of-ways.

Resident should report these issues to TDOTConcerns@tucsonaz.gov or call 791-3154.

Contact Star reporter Shaq Davis at 573-4218 or sdavis@tucson.com

On Twitter: @ShaqDavis1

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