Delaware DOT Illustrates Resiliency Strategies at Hearing

During a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on September 21, Nicole Majeski – secretary of the Delaware Department of Transportation – detailed her agency’s efforts to incorporate resiliency into infrastructure projects statewide.

[Above photo by AASHTO]

That hearing elicited testimony from states and localities regarding ongoing implementation efforts related to the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA, enacted in November 2021.

“Having this bill [the IIJA] finalized gives state DOTs and our contractor community certainty that we will continue to make needed infrastructure investments in the years ahead,” Majeski noted in her testimony. “The $1.6 billion in federal funding that Delaware is receiving through [the IIJA], along with our committed state resources, will allow us to deliver our largest capital program ever of $4.45 billion over the next five years.”

She explained that federal funding would be particularly critical to helping her agency deal with the effects of climate change.

“As the lowest-lying state in the nation, Delaware is seeing firsthand the effects that climate change and sea-level rise are having on our state,” Majeski noted. “We are increasingly seeing roads in our coastal areas overtopped with water not just during significant storms but with tidal flooding on sunny days. We estimate that we have $1 billion worth of infrastructure vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.”

Secretary Majewski – Senate EPW video still

To cope with such issues, Majeski said Delaware Governor John Carney (D) spearheaded the development of a Climate Action Plan in November 2021; a plan that led to the creation of a resiliency and sustainability division within Delaware DOT to centralize the agency’s efforts to improve the resiliency and sustainability of its transportation network.

“This division is focusing on the impacts climate change and sea-level rise are having on our transportation infrastructure; incorporating resiliency and sustainability measures in the construction and maintenance of our projects; implementing the electrification of our infrastructure and fleet; incorporating the use of alternative energy; and minimizing the environmental impacts caused by our transportation system,” Majeski noted.

“It will guide our work to develop solutions for these impacted areas and lead initiatives such as the broader electrification of our infrastructure to support and encourage the use of electric vehicles in Delaware,” she added. “Newly created formula funding through [the IIJA] will allow us to move forward with these critical projects.”

For example, in March, Delaware DOT initiated a plan to make the state’s road systems more resilient to climate change by tapping into the additional $160 million over five years the IIJA will provide to Delaware’s main highway programs.

The agency also received a $6.5 million Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity or RAISE grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation in August to begin designing an ambitious plan in the Route 9 area near New Castle. That project would reduce the number of through lanes on Route 9, with that “saved” lane space used to improve pedestrian and bicycle, and bus facilities as well as extra green space.

Video: Hawaii DOT Talks Transportation Resiliency

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials recently released a video highlighting how the Hawaii Department of Transportation incorporates resiliency into its infrastructure strategy.

[Above image via AASHTO]

AASHTO’s Transportation TV interviewed Edwin Sniffen, Hawaii DOT deputy director for highways, as part of its “2 Minute State DOT Update” video news series that illustrates how state departments of transportation build, maintain, and improve America’s multimodal transportation network.

During the interview, Sniffen explained what making a transportation system “more resilient” means and how Hawaii DOT incorporates that philosophy into its infrastructure planning, construction, and delivery processes.

Sniffen is a recognized state DOT leader on the topic of resilience. For example, he participated in a knowledge session on infrastructure resilience hosted during AASHTO’s 2022 Spring Meeting in New Orleans.

Moderated by David Sweeney, president and CEO of engineering and architectural firm RS&H, the panel explored how “resilience” is becoming a critical factor in extending the overall lifecycle of infrastructure assets while also hardening them against potential damage from both natural and man-made disasters.

That knowledge session also included Marc Williams, executive director of the Texas DOT; Will Watts, assistant secretary for engineering and operations at Florida DOT; and Aimee Flannery, a surface transportation analyst from the Office of the USDOT Secretary.

NYSDOT Begins Roadway Flood Control Project

The New York State Department of Transportation recently began construction on a flood resiliency project in Oswego County; part of the state’s Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative or REDI.

[Above photo via the NYSDOT]

The project, which includes improvements to sections of County Route 89 in the Town of Oswego, received nearly $1.3 million in funding to improve the drainage and enhance public safety by providing a safer roadway that does not require closure due to flooding.

The agency noted that, during the “historic” flooding that occurred in 2019, sections of County Route 89 roadway flooded – cutting off residents from their homes and forcing emergency vehicles to reroute.

As a result, then-Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) created the REDI program in the spring of 2019 to combat an “extended pattern of flooding” along the shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Five REDI Regional Planning Committees comprised of representatives from eight counties – Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Cayuga, Oswego, Jefferson, and St. Lawrence – work to identify “at-risk” infrastructure and public safety concerns.

The County Route 89 project’s flood mitigation measures also include:

  • Replacing the existing culvert with a larger culvert to increase drainage;
  • Reconstruction and elevation of flood-prone sections of the roadway;
  • Minor profile adjustments to the roadway; and
  • Installation of new guiderail, signs, and pavement markings.

“By enhancing the resilience of our transportation network with strategic investments like this, we help keep people and goods on the move, despite the impacts of severe weather,” noted NYSDOT Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez in a statement.

Other state departments of transportation are also involved in a range of flood-mitigation efforts.

For example, in May, the North Carolina Department of Transportation activated a new flood-warning system that relies on a network of 400 river and stream gauges to help analyze, map, and communicate in real-time any flood risks to roads, bridges, and culverts.

FHWA Issues PROTECT Formula Program Guidance

The Federal Highway Administration issued guidance on July 29 for a new $7.3 billion in formula funding created by the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA enacted in November 2021 to help states and local communities better prepare for and respond to extreme weather events such as wildfires and flooding.

[Above photo by the KYTC]

The Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation or “PROTECT” program provides funding over five years to help states focus on resilience planning, making resilience improvements to existing transportation assets and evacuation routes, and addressing at-risk highway infrastructure. 

In general, eligible projects include highway and transit projects, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and port facilities including those that help improve evacuations or disaster relief. States are encouraged to work with regional and local partner organizations to prioritize transportation and emergency response improvements, as well as address vulnerabilities, noted Stephanie Pollack, deputy administrator for the Federal Highway Administration.

“We see the effects of climate change and extreme weather play out across the country every week, with extreme temperatures and rainfall and resulting flooding and wildfires that damage and in some cases destroy roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure,” she said in a statement. “The PROTECT Formula Program will help make transportation infrastructure more resilient to current and future weather events and at the same time make communities safer during these events.”

FHWA said eligible resilience improvements could involve adapting existing transportation infrastructure or new construction to keep communities safe by bolstering infrastructure’s ability to withstand extreme weather events and other physical hazards that are becoming more common and intense. Eligible project choices may include the use of natural or green infrastructure that acts as a “buffer” against future storm surges and provide flood protection, as well as aquatic ecosystem restoration.

PROTECT projects can also help improve the resilience of transportation networks that serve traditionally underserved and underrepresented communities, particularly during natural disasters and evacuations, the agency noted.
FHWA added that its new guidance applies to the PROTECT formula program only, with the agency planning to release a notice of funding opportunity for the program’s discretionary grant initiative later this year.

State departments of transportation consider formula funding to be a critical aspect of national efforts to improve infrastructure resiliency.

Edwin Sniffen, deputy director of highways for the Hawaii Department of Transportation, highlighted that viewpoint in a Senate Committee on Appropriations hearing in May 2021.

Sniffen – who also serves as chair of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on Transportation System Security and Resilience – said that traditional formula funding processes play a key role in helping states implement resiliency plans.

“When considering funding for resilience, the current core formula program eligibility could be expanded to consider resilience improvements,” he said. “Or formula funding could be set aside to focus on resilience-related planning, coordination, and evacuation; or, a discretionary grant program for adaptation strategies could be established.”

Sniffen added that additional funding and an expedited project delivery process would “greatly aid” getting more resilience initiatives out of the theoretical stages and into practice on the nation’s streets, bridges, runways, and harbors.

“The Hawaii DOT is currently approaching building resilience into our systems using a variety of approaches, including pursuing green infrastructure such as carbon mineralized concrete and adding recycled plastics to asphalt mixes,” he noted. “Investing in resilient infrastructure on a federal level will enable us and other transportation agencies to implement better and greener infrastructure.”

Video: AASHTO Highlights Resilience in Knowledge Session

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials recently released a video providing an overview of its knowledge session on infrastructure resilience during its 2022 Spring Meeting in New Orleans.

[Above photo by AASHTO]

The “Special Report” compiled by AASHTO’s Transportation TV details how “resilience analysis” has become a cornerstone of the infrastructure decision-making process for state departments of transportation and federal transportation agencies alike.

Moderated by David Sweeney, president and CEO of engineering and architectural firm RS&H, the panel explored how “resilience” is becoming a critical factor in extending the overall lifecycle of infrastructure assets while also hardening them against potential damage from both natural and man-made disasters.

The knowledge session included Marc Williams, executive director of the Texas DOT; Ed Sniffen, deputy director for highways at the Hawaii DOT; Will Watts, assistant secretary for engineering and operations at Florida DOT; and Aimee Flannery, a surface transportation analyst from the Office of the USDOT Secretary.

Announcing Center for Environmental Excellence Resilience Webinars

The Center for Environmental Excellence in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration invites you to join in parts two and three of a three-part webinar series on Resilience. The webinars will include speakers from various state DOTs as well as FHWA and AASHTO. Find further description and registration, as well as recording and meeting materials from the first session below:


Reducing the effects of climate change on transportation infrastructure using natural and nature-based solutions (5/9/22)

Recording and meeting materials: https://environment.transportation.org/past-event/resilience-webinar-series-reducing-the-effects-of-climate-change-on-transportation-infrastructure-using-natural-and-nature-based-solutions/


Integration of climate change projections in hydrologic and hydraulic design in transportation projects (5/31/22)

Registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Fv4Y68VwTHa9MBe1-lI-gQ

Future climate conditions, including increased precipitation and sea-level rise, are anticipated to impact the structural performance, and therefore, the functionality of our transportation facilities. As such, the integration of climate considerations into the design of transportation facilities is an important step in ensuring that target levels of facility performance are met as climate conditions change. This integration, however, is not yet a standard practice included in hydrologic and hydraulic design. Engineers can benefit from being provided with methods and tools that facilitate the integration of climate considerations, especially of scientific advances that have proven to be effective in engineering decision-making. This webinar will feature selected methods and tools used by transportation agencies in the United States and overseas to account for climate data in the hydrologic and hydraulic design of transportation facilities.


Integrating Natural Hazard Resilience into the Transportation Planning Process (7/6/22) also from 1-2:30 EST

Registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_lpclw6-jTOqLHhRhSLBB6w

Climate change and other natural hazards may threaten lives, property, and other assets. Often, natural hazards can be predicted. They tend to occur repeatedly in the same geographical locations because they are related to the weather patterns and physical characteristics of an area. At whatever stage a planning agency is in its planning cycle, there are resilience-related actions that can be taken in order to begin appropriately integrating natural hazard considerations into the transportation planning process. Currently, there has been a resurgence of interest in resilience-based planning activities due to the frequency of natural disasters, the global movement to fight climate change, and even due to the emphasis on planning for resilience in the recent federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This webinar will provide an overview and integrate key examples showing how transportation planning agencies can most appropriately and effectively integrate resilience into the transportation planning process.

Wisconsin Study Supports Use of Liquid Brine

A new report recently released by the Traffic Operations and Safety or “TOPS” Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and funded by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation found the use of liquid brine in winter highway maintenance cleared roadways faster and at a lower cost, while providing for better vehicle traction and reducing salt buildup in local waterways.

[Above photo via the Wisconsin DOT]

“Liquid brine” is a simple mixture of salt and water used to clear winter roads and, for this study, the lab’s researchers looked at data from 143 storms occurring in 10 counties across Wisconsin. It compared brine-cleared routes to those nearby cleared with a traditional granular rock-salt method.

The data showed that brine-treated roads were:

  • Clear (bare/wet condition) more than two hours faster on average.
  • More likely to show a higher roadway friction rating.
  • More efficient with material – reducing salt use on average by 23 percent.

“The data tells a very positive story for winter highway safety in Wisconsin,” said Andrea Bill, associate director of the TOPS Lab, housed in the UW-Madison College of Engineering. “Liquid brine is an effective tool, and along with training, education and technology, our storm fighters are making effective reductions in the amount of chloride on our roads and improving the performance of winter roads.”

[The winter operations podcast put together by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Snow and Ice Pooled Fund Cooperative Program, known as “SICOP,” recently produced an episode on Wisconsin’s brine study. To listen to it, click here.]

“With salt cost continuing to rise, it is imperative we work together to optimize supplies and deliver the most safe and effective service possible for the taxpayer,” noted Wisconsin DOT Secretary Craig Thompson in a statement.

“Liquid brine is a great example of how we strive to implement sustainable and earth-friendly alternatives during winter highway maintenance,” he added. “We applaud county highway departments across the state for using liquid brine to maintain and clear Wisconsin roadways faster.”

[Editor’s note: The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is currently seeking public feedback on ways to improve its winter operations via an online survey. “Winter operations are among our core services and our team takes pride in their mission,” explained said PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian in a statement. “Through this survey, the public can help us measure expectations and identify education opportunities.”]

Wisconsin counties use liquid brine in a variety of ways to help “optimize” the use of salt in fighting winter storms:

  • Wetting roads with liquid brine before storms help prevent the bond of snow and ice to a driving surface.
  • Using brine to wet granular salt as it is distributed both helps the salt stick to a roadway and activates the chemical reaction that melts snow and ice.
  • Direct Liquid Applications or DLAs spray a brine solution directly to the roadway during winter events to break the bond between snow and the pavement.

The report found that, by creating a treatment option using less salt, brine can help stretch budgets and – by reducing salt usage – prevent the “bounce off” effect that increase granular salt build up in in lakes and streams.

AASHTO Sends Floodplain Management Comments to FEMA

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials sent a five-page letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on January 27 to provide feedback on floodplain management standards for land management and use; a key part of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program or NFIP.

[Above image via FEMA]

Developed with the assistance of the AASHTO Technical Committee on Hydrology and Hydraulics, the letter cautions against creating more requirements for specific threatened and endangered “T&E” species as that could create a “patchwork of complex regulations” among multiple federal agencies that would further complicate floodplain permitting.

”Additional impact restrictions imposed by a change to the NFIP minimum floodplain management standards could potentially delay or prevent fish passage projects at some [state] DOTs that have their own environmental regulations and requirements regarding T&E,” AASHTO said.

The organization also recommends that the NFIP focus on floodplain management while other agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service focus on T&E.

On another front, AASHTO pointed out that improving the distinction between river and coastal standards is critical as environmental and climate concerns are much different between them.

“State DOTs across the country are struggling with the best method to address climate change,” the letter explained. “[Yet] climate science regarding future flooding events is in a very immature state and is not well developed. Incorporation into the NFIP should not be considered until the science has stabilized and an acceptable design method is available to [state] DOTs.”

AASHTO added that a memorandum of understanding between FEMA and the Federal Highway Administration regarding hydraulic modeling within the special hazard flood area or SFHA within the NFIP would be beneficial to state DOTs.

That would be especially true when it comes to handling minor culvert and bridge maintenance, as well as ways to improve hydraulic models to limit any potential damage to streams, creeks, or other bodies of water in and around transportation projects, the organization noted.

Ohio DOT Projects Aim to Curb Landslide Damage

A landslide repair project currently underway on SR 60 in Morgan County, Ohio, is illustrative of dozens of similar efforts initiated by the Ohio Department of Transportation aimed at keeping small landslides from growing into larger ones.

[Above photo by the Ohio DOT]

This particular $650,259 landslide project – located between Mautz Drive, also known as Township Road 1183, and the Muskingum County line – should wrap up by December 1, the agency said.

Governor Mike DeWine (R) and Ohio DOT Director Jack Marchbanks allocated $35 million in federal funding in June to proactively deal with landslides and rockslides in eastern and southern Ohio. That money comes from $333.4 million Ohio received from the $900 billion Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act passed in late December 2020.

State departments of transportation received $10 billion of that $900 billion to help defray the loss of motor fuel tax revenues – among other fees – resulting in part from stay-at-home orders issued to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a wise investment. If we can address these issues early, we can avoid much costlier repairs in the future,” said Gov. DeWine in a statement.

“Southeastern Ohio is prone to these types of hazards and this effort allows us to minimize the cost and inconvenience to addressing them,” Marchbanks added.

Landslide and rockslide highway repairs can cost millions of dollars and can take anywhere from weeks to months to complete.

There are broader economic impacts from landslide/rockslide blockage of highways as well. A 34-page study conducted by HDR and Decision Economics for the Appalachian Regional Commission in 2010 found that closures of I-40 and US-64 through Tennessee due to rockslides and resulting travel detours imposed $197 million in economic costs on the surrounding area due to extra travel time and additional vehicle wear and tear.

Reports Highlight Growing Federal Focus on Resiliency

A pair of reports – one from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the other from the Government Accounting Office – highlight the increased focus the federal government is placing on climate change and resiliency within transportation infrastructure projects.

[Above photo by the Illinois DOT]

USDOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg noted in a statement that his agency’s new 26-page Climate Action Plan “will help ensure that our transportation infrastructure, policies, and programs will be more resilient to the climate impacts already facing our country.”

That plan calls for USDOT to incorporate resilience factors into its grant-making programs, enhance resilience through the project planning and development process, and improve research on resilience. That plan also calls for USDOT to “ensure resiliency” of its facilities and operational assets while also ensuring the availability of “climate-ready services and supplies.”

Meanwhile, the GAO issued a report in late September that offered 10 options to “further enhance the climate resilience of federally funded roads” via several resiliency initiatives.

However, GAO did note in its report that such initiatives could create unintended difficulties. For example, adding climate resilience requirements to formula grant programs could compel action but complicate states’ efforts to use federal funds, the agency said.

Despite that, GAO’s report stressed that U.S. transportation infrastructure needs resiliency improvements to ward off the potentially costly impacts of climate change.

“If U.S. roads aren’t built to withstand changes in the climate, they may be unsafe routes for emergency evacuations and expensive to fix after a disaster,” GAO said in its report. “Climate-related damages to paved roads may cost up to $20 billion annually by the end of the century.”

Many state departments of transportation are already incorporating more resiliency elements into their transportation projects to ward off the climate impacts noted by GAO.

For example, Ed Sniffen – deputy director for highways at the Hawaii Department of Transportation – noted that his agency views “resilience” as a way to not only make infrastructure more robust and last longer, but save money as well.

“We’re making sure resiliency is built right into our project planning processes,” he explained during a panel discussion at the 2021 virtual American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Washington Briefing in March.

“But we also view it as a way to save on cost. For example, on one project, instead of re-stabilizing slope prone to rockfalls, we extended a tunnel to better protect the road,” Sniffen said. “That cost us $20 million versus $150 million to stabilize the slope.”

Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, stressed that each state needs to look at the specific severe weather events that affect their areas so they can tailor infrastructure designs appropriately to maximize resilience.

Where Minnesota is concerned, she said her agency also often considers a “step back” where infrastructure is concerned – for example re-routing low volume roads away from areas prone to flooding rather than rebuild them.

“It is not always about building back better with infrastructure,” Anderson Kelliher said. “Often we need to plan whether it should be there in that location in the first place. That’s why we are really trying to pilot using ‘climate resilience’ in our corridor plans and how to support emergency repairs going forward.”