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Livingston Street

The right westbound lane on East Washington Avenue is shut down Friday morning as floodwater from Livingston Street encroaches on the thoroughfare. 

Monday’s record rainfall might be in the rearview mirror, but Madison commuters need to gear up for a long slog ahead.

Officials say that streets that are currently closed, as well as those that will be shut down in the near future, will stay off-limits for some time.

“What we’re seeing now is the start,” said Tom Mohr, a city engineer.

Current road closures are centered around the Tenney Park area, including arterial East Johnson Street.

But water is slowly encroaching on low-lying areas of East Washington, and officials expect that crucial gateway to eventually succumb to the flood, leaving only Williamson Street and Sherman Avenue for commuters to get from the east and north sides of the city to downtown.

And when East Washington is closed, the water won’t disappear anytime soon. That’s because the level of water on the street around East Washington Avenue is the same as Lake Monona, and that lake isn’t expected to crest until sometime next week.

“It’s going to keep going up until next week, like a couple of inches a day, then it’s going to go down at pretty much the same rate,” Mohr said.

So, for instance, if East Washington is closed four days before the lake crests, it will be closed four days after the crest, for a total of eight days.

That means motorists will have to change their habits for an extended period. Mohr said some streets could be closed for one to two weeks, or more.

Flooding on the north side of the isthmus should be more predictable, because Lake Mendota has already crested and the level of the lake can be controlled with the locks and dam system. Officials have begun channeling water to the Yahara River, which runs into Lake Monona, to prevent catastrophic flooding should the dam be breached.

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That’s why Sherman Avenue, which provides a gateway from the north side to Gorham Street, will remain passable, while East Washington, under which lies a system of storm sewers tied to Lake Monona, likely won’t.

Brearly and Livingston streets, which intersect East Washington, were already closed Friday morning. Livingston Street, which is the lowest lying spot on East Washington, was covered in about 9 inches of water at 7:30 a.m., which crept into East Washington Avenue, closing the right westbound lane.

“If East Washington closes, it will first close at Livingston,” Mohr said.

Other street closures include East Johnson Street from North Baldwin to Fordem Avenue, East Main Street from South Dickinson Street to the Yahara River, East Mifflin Street from North Blount to Patterson Street, Livingston Street from Dayton Street to Williamson Street, Marston Avenue from East Johnson Street to Sherman Avenue, and North Brearly Street from East Washington to East Mifflin Street. 

On top of the flooding that will inevitably occur, officials are worried that rain forecast for Friday evening will further boost Lake Monona levels. And after a warm, dry Saturday, rain and thunderstorms are expected Sunday night through Wednesday. 

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.