By Mark Abrams

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — PennDOT is tapping into an academic resource to help steer rainfall along its Interstate 95 construction project away from Philadelphia’s overtaxed storm water collection system.

Robert Traver, a professor of civil engineering at Villanova University, says the partnership was proposed by PennDOT, which was looking for ways to better manage storm water overflows along highways, especially I-95.

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He says the rain gardens concept in urban areas is one that’s only been around about 10 years.

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“It’s a combination of a little bit of hydrology, a little bit of soils, a little bit of plants, and a little bit of climate in putting the water back into the ground instead of into the combined sewers where it might overflow into the Schuylkill or Delaware (rivers),” said Traver.

The rain garden on Richmond Street in Fishtown is the model for what PennDOT hopes to accomplish in several locations along the I-95 construction corridor. A remote weather station to monitor rainfall, wind and temperatures is located to the left, right near the noise-control barrier. (credit: Dr. Robert Traver, Villanova University)

Traver says one of the first projects along Richmond Street in Fishtown is a model for some 70 future gardens PennDOT hopes to erect as the I-95 work continues over the next six years.

“Some of the areas of these PennDOT projects – every time we go out there we see new things. Like there’s bird feeders, they put a scarecrow up on Halloween. Some of the residents have really adopted this as a park for their neighborhood,” he said.

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Temple University’s geology department also is contributing with engineering proper drainage paths, and the landscape and horticulture department selecting plants that can survive in a rain-garden environment.