How the hell did the Downtown Connector flood?

It wasn’t a main break, despite initial reports


A brief-but-torrential rainstorm passing through Atlanta wreaked havoc on some parts of the city on Sunday afternoon. First-floor apartments were knee-deep in water. Cars were totaled in parking lots. And motorists traveling on the Downtown Connector were brought to a screeching halt.

Around 1:30 p.m., multiple storm drains along the highway at exit 249B, near the intersection of Peachtree and Pine streets, started overflowing due to a fierce storm that doused the heart of the city. The problems worsened to the point that all lanes shut down for about 40 minutes. Several cars, as seen in several photos from witnesses, were caught in massive gridlock behind the flooded area.

Initial reports had blamed the flooding on a water main break. But Lillian Govus, spokeswoman for the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management, tells CL that wasn’t what caused traffic to stop on the highway.

“It was not a main break,” she says. “The storm drains were clogged. The water hit the drains in such a short amount of time that it caused flooding. … Imagine if you had a clogged sink and dumped five gallons of water into it.”

Govus said the city responded first to the Downtown Connector and helped clean out one of the storm drains. Georgia Department of Transportation workers then arrived unclogged the remaining area’s drains, which helped reduce the flooding. The state’s transportation agency holds final responsibility for problems occurring on the interstate. But the city’s watershed department will assist in some emergency situations.

GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale tells CL the drains were cleared out last Thursday. Yet the department’s HERO units yesterday found drains covered by a “significant amount” of debris such as tree limbs, leaves, and yard signs. By the time the storm passed through, she says, the highway’s drainage system couldn’t handle the flooding without the additional removal of roadside debris.

It’s a reminder that signs such as real estate signs, political signs, moving signs, etc., are illegal on state right-of-way,” Dale writes in an email. “It’s litter and can quickly become debris during a strong storm system that has such power and can wash debris downstream quickly blocking drains.”

The flash flood also damaged dozens of cars parked in eastside neighborhoods, soaked a handful of apartments in Midtown and Old Fourth Ward, and caused power outages.

More storms are expected to hit metro Atlanta throughout this week. GDOT crews plan to keep monitoring the drains in advance of the potential severe weather.