Scott Circle underpass floods again amid stormy summer

During heavy rain, flooding has frequently closed Scott Circle's 16th Street underpass. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

Two people were rescued from a vehicle stalled in high water in 16th Street NW’s underpass below Scott Circle on Saturday night, and several other drivers were forced to abandon their vehicles and evacuate the scene.

Rescue personnel assist a stranded motorist in the Scott Circle underpass on Aug. 12. (image courtesy of D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services)

Although no one was injured, the emergency response brought extra attention to a recurring trouble spot in the busy transportation corridor. Including Saturday’s incident, the underpass has flooded four times in less than three weeks, with water also accumulating there on July 29, Aug. 7 and Aug. 15.

According to Pamela Mooring of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, the Aug. 12 flood was caused by a suction line blockage, which DC Water cleared by 10:46 p.m. that night. The Aug. 7 flood was caused by a blown transformer, which has since been repaired.

Mooring said that DC Water crews were making permanent repairs, which the agency hoped to complete by Tuesday night. In the meantime, the water authority installed a temporary pump to prevent possible additional flooding, but Tuesday morning’s deluge once again closed the underpass.

The D.C. Department of Transportation’s stormwater team recently launched a citywide flood study, according to spokesperson Maura Danehey. The team is currently amassing data on historical floods.

16th Street NW passes under Scott Circle. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

“This is really unacceptable,” Randy Downs of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B (Dupont Circle) said of the recurring issues at Scott Circle. “People’s lives and property are at risk.”

Vito Maggiolo, spokesperson for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, said Scott Circle’s flooding is unusual and the underpass there is not a “target destination” for the District’s emergency responders.

Downs said he suspects climate change — with a greater number of intense rain storms in the area — is responsible for the increase in Scott Circle’s underpass flooding, and called for the Transportation Department to install a bioretention pond to store runoff. “As our climate continues to change we’re going to see more and more storms,” Downs said.

The District’s own climate change adaptation plan, published in 2012, highlights the risk of increased tunnel flooding and calls for improved drainage systems to cope with excess water.

Downs intends to invite DC Water and the Transportation Department to send representatives to ANC 2B’s next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 13.