TRB Report: Include Resilience in Project Benefit-Cost Analysis

A new report issued by the Transportation Research Board calls on the U.S. Department of Transportation to include resilience factors within the benefit-cost analysis or BCA for infrastructure project justifications.

[Above photo by the Ohio DOT]

TRB’s report – entitled Investing in Transportation Resilience: A Framework for Informed Choices –  also recommends that resilience be measured and assessed using an “analytic framework” that incorporates detailed inventories of existing and planned assets, such as roads, runways, bridges, docks, and rail lines. It also seeks to include resilience within assessments of the characteristics and likelihood of future natural hazards, along with predictions of the vulnerability of the assets and their critical functions to those hazards.

[Editor’s note: In a related effort, the U.S. General Accounting Office recently issued a “Disaster Resilience Framework” to serve as an analytical guide for federal actions aimed at promoting resilience to natural disasters and changes in the climate across many policy areas, including transportation.]

The report – sponsored by USDOT and undertaken by the Transportation Resilience Metrics Committee – recommends that Congress fund a further study to define the types of data that transportation agencies need for resilience analysis, identify potential sources for this data, and explore how to make that data “more suitable” for analysis.

“Storms, floods, droughts, and other natural hazards are combining with sea-level rise and other effects of climate change to disrupt the functioning of the nation’s transportations systems,” said Joseph Schofer, professor of civil and environmental engineering and associate dean at Northwestern University, in a statement.

“Investing in resilience will require us to make carefully considered choices about how we spend money today to generate benefits that may not be realized until long into the future,” added Schofer, who authored TRB’s report.

The report also stressed that to make resilience a “routine and deliberate element” of transportation investments, Congress should consider requiring all federally funded projects involving long-lived assets to undergo “well-defined” resilience assessments that account for the risks from natural disasters and changing climate conditions.

State departments of transportation are also ramping up their focus on resilience strategies.

For example, a panel of state DOT executives and managers – as well as a team leader from the Federal Highway Administration – shared their insights on infrastructure resilience via a peer exchange during the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials 2021 virtual spring meeting in May.

“We are seeing events such as wildfires, flooding, and hurricanes becoming more extreme and occurring more often,” explained Edwin Sniffen, deputy director of highways for the Hawaii Department of Transportation. “We are also seeing more ‘man-made’ issues, too, such as cybersecurity, terrorist attacks, and the like. So it is super important to make our [infrastructure] systems more resilient.”

Sniffen also stressed that formula funding mechanisms are critical to building more resilience into the nation’s transportation system during a hearing on May 13 before the Senate Committee on Appropriations. “When considering funding for resilience, the current core formula program eligibility could be expanded to consider resilience improvements,” he said during his testimony. “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. [However] AASHTO generally recommends avoiding new plans, programs, and analysis processes as this increases cost and burden to state DOTs.”

State DOTs Bracing for Highly Active Hurricane Season

As forecasters predict a particularly active hurricane season for 2021, state departments of transportation from Texas to New Jersey are preparing for worst-case scenarios to help citizens get out of town if a big storm ends up heading their way.

[Above photo by the Louisiana DOTD]

The Atlantic hurricane season began on June 1 and lasts through November 30. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center predicts a “likely range” of six to 10 hurricanes with winds of at least 74 miles-per-hour to form this year, with three to five major hurricanes with wind speeds of at least 111 mph developing as well.

Even relatively “minor” hurricanes can cause significant damage, especially to transportation systems, as the impact of Hurricane Sally – which struck the Alabama and Florida border in September 2020 – demonstrates.

Five hurricanes made landfall in Louisiana in 2020, prompting evacuations ahead of the storms and road closures in their aftermaths. To ensure quick evacuation of citizens from low-lying, flood-prone areas ahead of such storms, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has a longstanding partnership with the Mississippi Department of Transportation to activate contraflow operations for removing people from New Orleans and coastal areas rapidly.

“The pinnacle of our cooperative efforts come out during an emergency evacuation,” Louisiana DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson explained. “This region has a very cooperative history. We were in Beaumont (Texas) last year after one of the hurricanes, and we brought in personnel from the Tennessee DOT to help us. We all help each other as the circumstances warrant.”

Photo by Louisiana DOTD

When activated, the Southeast Louisiana Evacuation Plan calls for the Louisiana DOTD and Louisiana State Police to reverse traffic on the southbound lanes on Interstates 55 and 59. Once traffic reaches the Mississippi state line, the Mississippi DOT takes over traffic control and guides the combined eight lanes of traffic well into the heart of Mississippi.

The Mississippi DOT held a contraflow drill on June 3 to practice moving equipment into place and communicating with each other along the 86 combined miles of “contraflowed” interstate lanes.

“We go through all the motions except actually closing the exits on the interstates,” said Jas Smith, Mississippi DOT’s communications director. “The intention is to quickly evacuate the New Orleans and coastal residents. We want to get them out as quickly as possible.”

The Alabama Department of Transportation also has an interstate contraflow plan ready to go during daylight hours, according to Tony Harris, the agency’s media and community relations bureau chief.

“We only contraflow Interstate 65, north of Mobile, to Montgomery,” Harris explained. “We have a deployment rehearsal where we do everything but stop traffic. It’s like a military operation with about 120 defined steps and procedures.”

The South Carolina Department of Transportation recently released an animated video that explains how its intrastate contraflow works on Interstate 26 from Charleston to Columbia.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Transportation recently added several new features to its 511 site along with a new mobile application to assist motorists during hurricane evacuations.

States even as far north as New Jersey are holding evacuation drills “to practice and refine response activities in the event of a major hurricane,” according to a news release from the New Jersey Department of Transportation. “This annual drill is to practice a worst-case scenario in which New Jersey shore communities would need to be evacuated in a short period of time due to a hurricane or other natural disaster,” noted Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, the New Jersey DOT’s commissioner. “This gives crews from the New Jersey DOT, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, and the South Jersey Transit Authority, along with the State Police, an opportunity to test our plans and make sure our emergency personnel are able to quickly and efficiently get people out of harm’s way.”

Hawaii DOT’s Sniffen: Formula Funding Critical for Resilience Efforts

Formula funding mechanisms are critical to building more resilience into the nation’s transportation system, argued Edwin Sniffen (seen above), deputy director of highways for the Hawaii Department of Transportation, during a May 13 Senate Committee on Appropriations.

Appearing before the subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development, and related agencies, Sniffen said transportation resilience is about “balancing today’s needs with the future and setting the plans and processes so that addressing adaptation is the default.”

That is why, he said, all of Hawaii DOT’s operational divisions have initiated climate adaption studies in response to ongoing and forecasted climate change.

“When your transportation systems are surrounded by water, like ours, climate adaptation is a must. However, I would like to make the argument that climate adaptation is necessary for all, regardless of their geography,” Sniffen explained in his written testimony. Yet simply moving transportation infrastructure out of “harm’s way” is neither the most practical nor economical solution.

“The 2017 ‘Hawaii Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report’ forecasts one meter of sea level rise affecting the Hawaiian Islands by 2100. If we took a traditional approach of relocating transportation facilities, we would be looking at an estimated $30 billion to relocate or elevate state roads and bridges, address impacts to airports, and protect the state’s commercial harbor facilities,” he explained.

That is where resiliency comes into play, Sniffen stressed. 

“I believe that the definition of resilience is critical and should not be related simply to the ability of an asset to not fail during certain events such as a bridge strike or a category-five hurricane,” he emphasized. “Rather, it needs to involve the ability of a state department of transportation to anticipate, plan, and adapt to potential risks; withstand, respond to, or recover when an event occurs; and construct and maintain assets that decrease project vulnerability risks.”

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 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. [However] AASHTO generally recommends avoiding new plans, programs, and analysis processes as this increases cost and burden to state DOTs.”

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.”

State DOTs Share Resilience Strategies for Transportation Planning

A panel of state department of transportation executives and managers, as well as a team leader from the Federal Highway Administration, recently shared their insights on infrastructure resilience via a peer exchange during the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials 2021 virtual spring meeting.

[Above photo by the Hawaii DOT]

“We are seeing events such as wildfires, flooding, and hurricanes becoming more extreme and occurring more often,” explained Edwin Sniffen, deputy director of highways for the Hawaii Department of Transportation. “We are also seeing more ‘man-made’ issues, too, such as cybersecurity, terrorist attacks, and the like. So it is super important to make our [infrastructure] systems more resilient.”

Sniffen – who also serves as chair of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on Transportation System Security and Resilience – added that “emergency response” is becoming a more crucial component of resiliency efforts at the state DOT level. “That’s one reason why we want to try and make FHWA ER [emergency relief] funding more consistent across the nation,” he explained. “Everyone is looking towards how to make things better.”

[Sniffen expanded further on Hawaii DOT’s resiliency philosophy during testimony May 13 before the Senate Committee on Appropriations.]

Michael Culp – FHWA’s team leader for sustainable transportation and resilience – noted during the exchange that his agency is “really focused on integrating resilience across the board. I would expect in the future to see more [resilience] policies coming out on all of these fronts; not just for state DOTs but for FHWA and the U.S. Department of Transportation, too.”

That includes more “technical guidance type work” and pilot projects where resiliency is concerned, he added.

“We’re seeing a ramped up focus on climate/extreme weather and how it impacts the highway system,” Culp noted, emphasizing that there is “a lot of interest” on Capitol Hill in seeing that the federal surface program integrate resilience within the nation’s transportation system.

“Resilience will also definitely have a lot of presence in federal [infrastructure] legislation, whatever it ends up looking like,” he added.

Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Kemp, head of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s resiliency program, noted that her agency “started down the path of resiliency planning” eight years ago in response to major flooding that occurred in 2013.

Since then, the Colorado DOT has developed a tool to calculate infrastructure risk while assessing the potential benefits of resiliency investments. “We’ve started looking at this from the planning perspective – deploying resilient designs in high risk areas where benefit costs support it,” she explained. “It is not an easy process to develop such tools, as the data are not always there. We have spent the last three or so years developing a robust tool kit to improve our resiliency decision-making in a day-to-day way. That is the key: getting better data for our tool kit and then integrating its findings into our day-to-day decision-making process.”

Yet Jennifer Carver – statewide community planning coordinator for the Florida Department of Transportation – cautioned that incorporating resilience into infrastructure planning “is not a quick thing.” It also involves all of the infrastructure-related processes within a state DOT: long-range planning, construction and design, plus maintenance.

“Over the last few years we set up a framework on how to ‘name’ resilience and point to where we are incorporating it in our infrastructure efforts,” she said. “That’s helped energize our agency around resilience and make it part of what we do. It makes every project into a resilience project.”

Gregg Brunner, director of bureau of field services for the Michigan Department of Transportation, said efforts like Florida DOT’s are vital to “bring more folks to the table” within a state DOT “from an educational standpoint in order to create awareness of the resiliency terminology.”

Developing agency-wide risk assessment and management process is the next step, he said. “It’s about breaking down risk management into two parts – agency risk, or how it impacts Michigan DOT as a whole, and then project-level risk.”

Brunner added that “agency level threats” include things that affect the department’s labor force, technology, and financial health. Project level risks, by contrast, include things like extreme weather events. “From there we develop a risk matrix: Examining likelihood of things like flooding or cyberattacks occurring in different areas around Michigan.”

Geography makes a big difference, too, he noted. For example, while six inches of snow in the Upper Peninsula region of the state would be a non-event – “business would carry on as usual,” Brunner said – six inches in Detroit would shut down the city. “Developing a risk assessment matrix is what helps us pinpoint locales with highest risk factors,” he said.

Chris Engelbrecht, assistant to the chief safety and operations officer at the Missouri Department of Transportation, stressed that planning ahead for disaster is crucial – especially when trying to build in more infrastructure resiliency. 

“The hardest time to incorporate resilience is in the disaster recovery phase – that is when we’re stressed with reopening closed roads as fast as possible,” he said. “Thus it is a struggle to bring resilience into the repair process.”

That’s why predictive tools are so important when it comes to planning resiliency improvements. “Looking at historical data does not always give us the full risk picture either,” Engelbrecht noted. “We need to look to the horizon, to examine changing weather patterns so we obtain ‘leading indicators’ before extreme events happen.”

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is already doing that to a degree, noted Tim Sexton, the agency’s assistant commissioner for sustainability and health.

“Right now Minnesota is forecasted to be the number one or two state in the nation affected by climate change; it’ll be getting warmer and wetter for us,” he said. “So the first risk we face is more flooding – and that directly impacts things like slope failures along our highway and railroad networks.

By contrast, warmer winters create more freeze and thaw cycles, which affect pavement durability. “Climate change shines a spotlight on inequities in all states,” Sexton noted. “That’s why we are adjusting resilience to be part of our long-range policy and infrastructure investment plans.”

Proposed Bill Seeks to Help States Build More Resilient Infrastructure

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., introduced the “Rebuilding Stronger Infrastructure Act” on April 20 to ensure that resilience improvements are eligible for federal funding, while requiring the Federal Highway Administration to provide states with the guidance and tools needed to rebuild infrastructure with more resiliency.

[Above photo by the Wisconsin DOT]

“Too often, highway infrastructure is rebuilt to pre-disaster specifications, leaving roads and bridges vulnerable to another disaster and costly damage repairs,” noted Sen. Baldwin in a statement.

“As extreme weather becomes more and more frequent, we need to empower states and local communities to build stronger and more resilient roads and bridges that can withstand the next storm or natural disaster,” she said. “This reform will not only ensure we are better protecting our infrastructure, but it will also save taxpayer dollars by making sure we are building it back better.”

“The Rebuilding Stronger Infrastructure Act ensures that we are investing in making our roads and bridges resilient to severe weather events and natural disasters while saving taxpayer dollars,” added Sen. Braun – covering the cost of damage from extreme weather and natural disasters such as severe storms, floods, or hurricanes.

The proposed legislation would:

  • Require the FHWA to update its Emergency Relief Manual to include the definition of resilience and identify procedures state departments of transportation may use to incorporate resilience into emergency relief projects. The manual would also encourage the use of Complete Streets design principals and consideration of access for moderate and low income families impacted by a declared disaster;
  • Require the FHWA to develop best practices for improving resilience of projects funded by the Emergency Relief program. Best practices will be shared with division offices of the Federal Highway Administration and state departments of transportation;
  • Require the FHWA to develop and implement a process to track consideration of resilience projects as part of the Emergency Relief Program and the cost of Emergency Relief projects; and 
  • Clarifies that cost-justified resilience improvements are eligible for Emergency Relief funding.

Both the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and Wisconsin Department of Transportation are supporting this bill.

“Sen. Baldwin’s Rebuilding Stronger Infrastructure Act is common-sense legislation that will save taxpayers’ dollars and prevent unnecessary disruptions to our transportation system,” noted Craig Thompson, secretary-designee for the Wisconsin DOT.  “When we identify roads and bridges that are prone to be damaged by natural disasters like flooding, it just makes sense to improve them to avoid that damage, rather than risk the disruption and expense of repairing them after they’ve been washed out,” he explained. “Sen. Baldwin’s bill will help states like Wisconsin keep our roads and bridges in good condition.”

NYSDOT Spearheads Project to Harden Infrastructure Against Flooding

The New York State Department of Transportation is heading up a $5.4 million project to “harden” a local roadway against damage from flooding and other weather events through the state’s Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative or REDI.

[Above photo by NYSDOT.]

The project focuses on a 1,800 linear foot section of County Road 57 – a critical connection that provides the only land access to Point Peninsula, an island community within the Town of Lyme near Lake Ontario.

Resiliency measures for this project include raising the vulnerable section of roadway three feet to mitigate potential flooding and halt further road deterioration. Additionally, the agency is installing “rip rap” – a term for human-placed rock formations – to provide further protection against the impact of wind, waves, and ice formation.

“Vital infrastructure along Lake Ontario has been adversely affected from severe flooding,” explained Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) in a statement. “Through REDI, and through the State’s partnership with local governments, these critical assets are being reimagined and rebuilt to mitigate future damage and disruption, ensuring public safety and safeguarding local economies.”

“By working together with our local partners and making smart, targeted investments like this one, New York is moving forward in the battle against climate change,” added Marie Therese Dominguez, NYSDOT commissioner. “These REDI projects will harden infrastructure, mitigate flooding and assist local communities in combating the rising waters of Lake Ontario for years to come.”

Gov. Cuomo created the REDI program in the spring of 2019 in response to 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 REDI Commission has to date allocated $20 million for homeowner assistance, $30 million to improve the resiliency of businesses, and $15 million toward a regional dredging effort that will benefit each of the eight counties in the REDI regions. It allocated the remaining $235 million towards local and regional projects that “advance and exemplify” the REDI mission.

Over the last two years, some 133 local and regional projects are now underway, including 107 projects in the design phase, 13 projects in the construction phase, and 13 projects completed.

Caltrans: Rebuilt Section of Highway 1 Could ‘Last for Centuries’

Recent hydrological studies indicate to the California Department of Transportation that it can rebuild a washed-out section of the famed Pacific Coast Highway with a massive new drainage system that would protect the roadway well past the 22nd Century.

[Photo courtesy of the California Department of Transportation.]

Three days of heavy rains spawned a river of mud, boulders, and fire debris on January 28 that overwhelmed a 150-foot section of the iconic Highway 1, sending it into the ocean. A five-mile section of the roadway remains closed at Rat Creek on Monterey County’s Big Sur Coast while contractors work toward an early summer re-opening.

“We’re returning the road to how it was before, but with modern engineering,” said Caltrans Public Information Officer Kevin Drabinski.

The washout left a V-shaped cavity where the old fill had cradled a 66-inch culvert for Rat Creek. Contractors will re-fill, compact the material, and bore the fill to accommodate a 10.5-foot culvert before rebuilding the roadway atop the fill.

Drabinski said the new drainage system would also feature a secondary culvert and some smaller culverts closer to highway grade, providing redundancy should another major incident occur.

Photo courtesy of the California DOT

“Our hydrological studies looked at models of another large fire followed by intensive rain,” he noted. “We’re confident this new design will stand for centuries to come.”

Drabinski added that the old culvert was installed decades ago and simply couldn’t handle the swollen creek that carried boulders, fire debris, mud, and a lot of water, all fueled by 17 inches of rain in three days. A massive tree trunk jammed the culvert, turning the creek into a lake and the highway into a dam. Eventually, the water and debris overtopped and washed out the road.

Contractors are hauling away tens of thousands of cubic yards of fill material while also properly disposing of the debris left behind by the landslide, Drabinski pointed out.

“There are designated sites for the debris haul,” he said. “We have very specific rules about how we dispose of that. You can’t just haul it away. You can’t throw a mudball into the Pacific Ocean.”

Caltrans believes it can finish the work by early summer, depending on rain. Crews are working every day, “and we’re making hay while the sun shines for now,” Drabinski emphasized.

Nevada DOT Roadway Work Includes Floodplain Improvements

Department of Transportation launches the “next phase” of major reconstruction of Great Basin Boulevard and East Aultman Street in Ely, NV, the agency is placing a particular focus on floodplain improvements.

[Above graphic by Nevada DOT.]

First, to enhance drainage in preparation for the roadway improvements, Nevada DOT crews constructed nearly 2,300 feet of concrete drainage pipe and open drainage channel in 2020 in order to convey stormwater from near the Orson Avenue and North Street intersection to Murry Creek. The agency added in a statement that those drainage improvements will continue as part of the project in 2021 and, when coupled with Great Basin Boulevard drainage improvements slated for 2021 as well, the work is the first step toward reducing floodplain limits and associated flooding concerns.

The overall project – overseen by the Nevada DOT in partnership with the City of Ely – is to reconstruct deteriorated local roadways while also upgrading the city’s water and sewer facilities. Planned upgrades alongside the floodplain improvements include a “complete streets” concept to reconstruct sections of Aultman Street and Great Basin Boulevard and reconfigure lanes to provide a safer route for drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

Oregon DOT Begins Work on Bridge Resiliency Project

The Oregon Department of Transportation contractor has officially started work on a series of “bridge bundles” associated with the Southern Oregon Seismic Resiliency project.

[Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Transportation.]

That three-year-long, $45 million project – funded by the 2017 Keep Oregon Moving legislative package – seeks to rebuild or reinforce 17 bridges and seven slopes that could be affected by the Cascadia Subduction Earthquake Zone.

The agency noted in a statement that the first “bridge bundle” being addressed within this project is an effort to strengthen Interstate 5 Exit 80 bridges near Glendale. Other bridges in this first $12.7 million “bundle” include the I-5 Exit 58 north Grants Pass interchange bridges and the nearby I-5 Hillcrest Road Bridge near milepost 57.5.

In a November 2020 blog post, the Oregon DOT noted that experts say there is a one-in-three chance a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake could occur within the next 50 years. The concern is that a major earthquake would isolate much of that region due to bridge damage or outright destruction, with landslides triggered by an earthquake blocking key roadways.

Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Transportation

Thus the idea behind the Southern Oregon Seismic Resiliency project is to “armor” key southern Oregon bridges and hillside slopes before a big earthquake strikes.

“The idea is to prepare now so the area can get back on its feet as quickly as possible, to get the region reconnected to the outside world,” explained Chris Hunter, Oregon DOT’s project manager. “How can we act strategically now to improve key bridges and known problem slopes to keep critical, life-saving goods flowing into and out of the region?“

He said Oregon DOT crews have prioritized or evaluated the most vulnerable bridges and slopes to keep the Rogue Valley connected along the I-5 corridor to Eugene and the Willamette Valley, as well as from the Rogue Valley east to the U.S. 97 corridor over Oregon 140. The plan is to quickly clear some kind of roadway connection – in the days and weeks after a subduction zone quake – even if it is a single lane or two. By keeping that connection, critical supplies can get into and out of the area, Hunter noted.

Oregon DOT: More Landslides May Occur due to Wildfires

The Oregon Department of Transportation noted in a recent blog post that landslides could increase in 2021 due to topographical damage caused by a series of devastating wildfires in 2020.

[Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Transportation.]

In order to track how landslide activity is influenced by wildfires, earthquakes, and climate change, the agency is in the midst of several projects that record and analyze landslide activity via ground- and aerial drone-based sensors.

[The video below, captured by an Oregon DOT drone, illustrates the type of transportation system damage that can be caused by landslides.]

To that end, Curran Mohney – senior engineering geologist with the Oregon DOT’s statewide project delivery group – is involved in an effort to monitor landslides affecting the state’s coastal highways. That project – in year four of its seven-year life – is being conducted in collaboration with students and professors from Portland State and Oregon State universities.

“Primarily what I want to know is how much time we have left for our highways in certain areas,” Mohney explained. “What’s the life span of our highways on the coast and in our stressed areas? How fast are landslides accelerating, especially with climate change drivers? How long until we lose that battle?”

He added that this project is “increasing knowledge” that will benefit the state in many ways – especially in terms of protecting its surface transportation network.

[The video below highlights the equipment and techniques deployed by the Oregon DOT and its contractors to repair roads damaged by landslides.]

For example, Mohney said every landslide has elements that indicate its approximate age: its shape and radiocarbon dating of buried animal bones and plant matter. Depending on what the research team discovers from that material helps determine whether a landslide occurred because of seismic events or just from heavy rains.

“Learning about the age and the causes of slides can help us make better decisions about our seismic lifelines or things we need to do to adapt to climate change impacts,” Mohney said.

“It’s telling us things about how and why landslides happen in certain places,” he added. “Just imagining what our issues are going to be with climate change and Cascadia [the Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquake] – it seems insurmountable. So if we can figure out anything about where, why, how, then we can be prepared. Maybe we can go out ahead of time and make smart decisions.”