VIDEO VAULT: Flooding at the Charleston underpass posed a huge problem for decades

Southern Nevada was hit by some pretty heavy rains in late January, along with fresh snow pack in in the mountains. Whenever this happens, I still get questions about a former perennial problem area, that was actually taken care of almost a decade ago.

"Well of course, the Charleston Underpass," Regional Flood Control District General Manager Gale Fraser told News 3 back in 1997. "Western Avenue between the railroad tracks and the Interstate always seems to be a problem. A lot of water collects there. But we're working on plans to fix it."

First Built as an alternative to waiting for trains, the Charleston Underpass was constructed as two lanes in 1949, then expanded to four in 1960.

"It was built as an inverted dip.," Explained RFCD Assistant GM Kevin Eubanks. "So it collects water, and has a fair amount of watershed that drains to it uncontrolled."

People at the time might have wondered if the Charleston Underpass had any sort of a drainage system at all. It did, but the drainage hole appeared to be about two feet in diameter. When the heavy rains came like they frequently do during monsoon season, the small aperture just didn't cut it.

"The Charleston Underpass swallowed up by 14 feet of water," News 3 reporter Stacey Escalante showed viewer in the Summer of 1977. "Cars buried below."

One classic photo shows a man making a swan dive into the floodwaters off a light pole. Couldn't something be done?

"It really needs it," said Jackie Inella, who managed nearby Kathy's Kollectables. "It's just like a river here. We've seen cars actually floating by."

In the late 90s, the RFCD came up with a plan, expanding the drainage facilities on Washington to the Las Vegas Wash and working their way upstream over several years.

"It used to be a rip-rap channel between the lanes that was probably had a ten-foot bottom width," said Eubanks, describing a drainage method where sloped sides were built with loose rock. "Now there are three eight-foot by eight-foot culverts underneath the road in that location."

Providing more drainage capacity downstream did the trick. The Charleston Underpass hasn't flooded since the project was completed in 2009.

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