With the veritable deluge of rain that has battered Florida's west coast this spring and summer, a familiar foe has cropped up in Tampa's transportation infrastructure: sinkholes.
The dreaded sinkholes have again reared their ugly head after record amounts of rain have soaked the area on an almost non-stop basis in 2015. Flooding has been a serious problem, and all of that extra water weight has been placing pressure on the city's roads. Some areas simply can't withstand the hydraulic stress of the standing water, leaving sinkholes all across the Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk, and Pinellas Counties that range from modest pock marks in the pavement to gaping holes into the underworld.
Road Closed at USF
The most recent major sinkhole incident occurred on the University of South Florida's Tampa campus this week, where a 3-foot wide sinkhole has emerged on Sycamore Drive, which cuts through the east side of campus near North 50th Street. The more worrisome aspect of the sinkhole's appearance is the full scale of its size: beneath the surface, the hole actually spreads 10 ft x 5 ft, and extends down 4 feet deep. This means that filling the hole and patching up the road may take a while; according to UPD, the road will be closed off at the site of the sinkhole for the next several days while repairs are made.
Sinkholes a Recurring Theme
The sinkhole at USF is only the most recent example of a problem that is becoming endemic to the Tampa Bay-Orlando area across west-central Florida. A quick search of the term "sinkhole" across the local news media yields report after report of sinkhole problems, from Lake County to Seffner. (A sinkhole that recently formed in Lake County measured an incredible 65 feet deep.) Some localities have even issued "boil water alerts," advising residents to boil their water in case the shifting sediment and minerals of sinkholes have contaminated water supplies.
In fact, Seffner was the site of the enormous sinkhole that in 2013 tragically claimed the life of a man sleeping in the house above the hole that opened up. After being repaired once, the ground at the same site opened up again last Wednesday due to the onslaught of rain, creating a new, somewhat smaller 17' x 20' wide hole. It took a team of municipal workers, a staggering 25,000 gallons of water, and 120 metric tonnes of gravel to refill the empty space, though luckily nobody was injured and no property was seriously damaged this time.
More on the Horizon?
Unfortunately, there are two reasons to believe that the sinkhole problem in central Florida is only going to worsen. For starters, sinkhole repairs are inherently short-term, stop-gap solutions that only put a metaphorical band-aid on the problem. It is simply too costly and time-consuming for public service crews to permanently address the sinkhole issue.
To add insult to injury, the rains may not be likely to stop anytime soon with several months remaining in "hurricane season." The former Category 3 Hurricane Danny that was raging at 115 mph in the Atlantic Ocean has since died down over the Caribbean, though it could still drop heavy rains on the southeastern U.S. Naturally, Tropical Storm Erika is right on his tail.