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State DOTs Practices for Response and Recovery from Extreme Weather Events


Extreme weather events present significant risks to the safety, reliability, and sustainability of the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Developing strategic plans to protect the highway infrastructure from these weather events are a top priority for the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) and the US DOT. The Department is also committed to increasing its effectiveness in ensuring that infrastructure is resilient enough to withstand extreme weather events that could otherwise disrupt the transportation network and require major reconstruction. Specifically, the DOT expects recipients of Federal funds to incorporate future operations and maintenance costs associated with a project’s life-cycle into the planning and preparation of a project. Federal regulations allow states to use Emergency Relief (ER) funds for the repair and reconstruction to current design and construction standards. These standards are continuously updated to reflect improvements and efficiencies in design and construction practices, thereby improving the highway infrastructure resilience.

The Emergency Relief Program (ERP) administered by FHWA provides funds for the repair and reconstruction of highways and roads that have sustained serious damage from catastrophic failures or natural disasters, including extreme weather events. In the past 5 years, Congress has appropriated approximately $5.7 billion to the ERP. Due to the importance the resilience plays in ensuring a safe and reliable transportation system, FHWA has to provide guidance and processes for incorporating resilience improvements into emergency relief projects to rebuild damaged highway infrastructure, especially when caused by weather events.

As an example, flooding in urban areas, driven by both precipitation and high tide events, can have a devastating effect on a region’s transportation system and economic viability. The critical needs to identify the magnitude of floods are to measure and model precipitation intensity with a short lead time and relate to high tide events to plan proper protective measures for and diversion from problem areas. A different approach may be needed when a snowstorm affects an area as different resources are required to coordinate the emergency response efforts.


To review and assess the state DOTs practices describing how states are approaching climate adaptation (from the long or short term perspective) and how states have responded to, or are prepared to respond to, extreme weather events. Some of the aspects may include weather/climate-related risks that agencies face, adjustments needed for approach/budgeting/activities to address these risks, and sharing emergency response strategies to enable quick and efficient recovery from extreme weather events.


As state DOTs begin to take more proactive action to prepare for extreme weather events, additional information is needed regarding whether and how to track costs associated with these events. In addition, state DOTs need a robust and efficient damage evaluation framework to help them weigh the costs and benefits of proactive strategies against the consequences of inaction. Newly developed risk assessments have identified different types of actions that can be taken to consider how changing climatic and extreme weather conditions can be incorporated into agency decision making.


1) Identify and assess uncertainties associated with expected climate changes in order to consider changes in planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operations practices today, and how to anticipate what might be needed in the future.

2) Verify if state DOTs have or plan to develop long range goals, objectives, and strategies for adapting to potential impacts from climate change.

3) Verify if and how states incorporate climate change vulnerability assessment planning tools, policies, and strategies into existing transportation and investment decisions (e.g. regional and/or project planning, etc.)

4) Verify if states express interest in sharing emergency response strategies to enable quick and efficient recovery from extreme weather events especially post-event recovery information on efforts.

5) Identify available methods or processes that can be used (some may be currently used by other states) to assess the vulnerability of critical infrastructure components needing improvement toward future design/construction practices.


Develop and implement a process to identify best practices for improving the resilience of emergency relief projects and share them with State DOTs and local agencies. Implementation should consider various analysis tools such as benefit-cost analysis and life cycle cost analysis that can be used to assess the desirability of pursuing actions today that would prevent damage during future extreme weather events. However, their use is based on assumptions associated with frequency of event occurrence and likelihood of damage.


High, given the recent weather related disasters in various states and the serious damages incurred by the national transportation network. Emergency relief projects should consider incorporating resilience features to reduce the risk of damage from future extreme events.

Sponsoring Committee:AKR40, Winter Maintenance
Research Period:24 - 36 months
RNS Developer:Cristian Druta, Rhonda Young
Date Posted:06/10/2021
Date Modified:06/24/2021
Index Terms:State departments of transportation, Weather conditions, Winter maintenance, Infrastructure, Flood damage, Floods, Snowstorms,
Cosponsoring Committees:AKR50, Road Weather
Maintenance and Preservation
Security and Emergencies
Transportation (General)

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