Late last August, a stretch of Route 38 in Cherry Hill between Longwood and Chapel avenues saw rapid flooding that submerged a car and left the vehicle trapped in the water until authorities could come for help. The incident left a section of Route 38 shut down, causing delays in both directions that had drivers congesting neighborhoods and sitting in standstill traffic on the surrounding roads.
The flooding was the latest in a series of intermittent flooding issues the Cherry Hill Police Department has dealt with along Route 38 over the last two years. With the rainiest months ahead, the low-lying section of road may still be susceptible to flooding, but the state Department of Transportation thinks it has identified the main source of the problem.
“Lower lying sections of Route 38, particularly by the railroad overpass near Kenilworth Avenue, have, at times, had issues with flooding resulting from heavy rainfall,” said Steve Schapiro, deputy director of communications for NJDOT. “Last year, a damaged drainage pipe on township property was discovered. NJDOT worked with Cherry Hill and completed a project last summer to repair the drainage pipe and stabilize an eroded slope near the railroad overpass.”
Schapiro said, additionally, sometimes so much rain falls in such a short amount of time that drainage systems cannot handle the deluge of water, which causes temporary flash flooding. He said in the event that flooding presents a danger to motorists, NJDOT will not hesitate to close a road temporarily.
Cherry Hill Police Chief William Monaghan said the department has grappled with flooding issues on both Route 70 and Route 38, but Route 38 has proven the more problematic of the two. He said roadway design and drainage issues are part of the problem. He said these issues are coupled with the fact that people throw trash and other debris out of their cars that washes into the drains and clogs them.
“Those pipes lead to a municipal release point back off of 38 – back by one of the parks,” Monaghan said. “We send public works crews out there to clear debris on a consistent basis to ensure at least our end is covered as far as the flow of the water.”
There were two flooding incidents in rapid succession last summer that drew the public’s attention to the problem. Capt. Amy Winters of the Cherry Hill Police Department said, at the road’s lowest point, the water can get up to four feet deep, and any car that tries to drive through that gets destroyed. She said the water looks deceptively less deep, and so some motorists will try to drive through the flooding. The car or cars subsequently become trapped and most likely destroyed. At that point, the incident turns into a rescue mission for the department, which has to contact the fire department to tow the car out of the water.
Monaghan said now that they’re aware of the issues, officers assigned to that district of town will monitor the road during periods of heavy rainfall.
“Our goal is to close it prior to the water getting to a point where people will get stuck in the water,” Monaghan said.
If needed, the department will contact the DOT to come out and shut down the road while the department assists with detours until the water subsides. He said because Route 38 is a major thoroughfare to Philadelphia and surrounding South Jersey communities, getting the word out about a closure is extremely important. He said they’ll contact local media and send out an alert on their Nixle page, but given the volume of traffic that utilizes the roadway, the backups will inevitably spill on to Route 70 and other side streets.
Monaghan cautioned that if Route 38 is shut down, the best option for diverted motorists is to stay on main roads and out of the nearby neighborhoods. He said the surrounding neighborhoods are practically a dead end with no way to turn around once motorists get trapped in the volume.
In the meantime, the township’s engineers are still in contact with DOT about corrective measures, according to Monaghan.
“It’s in the hands of engineers at this point,” Monaghan said.