Resilience in Transportation Planning, Engineering, Management, Policy, and Administration (NCHRP Synthesis 527)

This synthesis report, produced through the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, documents resilience efforts within transportation agencies, with a particular focus on how agencies are integrating resilience into their core functions and services - including planning, engineering, construction, maintenance and operations, and administration. The synthesis was informed by a literature review, a survey of transportation agencies, and five detailed case studies developed through agency interviews. It is intended to assist transportation practitioners and researchers by documenting the state of practice around transportation resilience and areas for future growth and research.

Chapter 2, Evolution of Highway Resilience, outlines key steps in U.S. federal policy that paved the way towards greater consideration of resilience in transportation planning and programs. It discusses how, in response to these evolving national policies, state DOTs and other transportation agencies began working to understand and plan for climate change impacts to their systems and infrastructure. Chapter 3 provides an overview of resilience definitions, risk definitions, and resilience metrics, indices, and frameworks that are being used by various federal and state agencies.

Chapter 4 presents findings from the survey of state DOTs on how they are integrating resilience into planning, engineering, management, policy, and administration, and the challenges they are encountering in doing so. About two-thirds of the respondents reported that they are integrating resilience into these practices, with planning and design activities being the most common practices considering resilience, followed by asset management programs and operations and maintenance. Survey participants were asked about examples of resilience practices within their agency, planning and vulnerability assessment efforts, guidance or procedures incorporating resilience, models or software for evaluating resilience, use of benefit-cost analysis, and any funding set-asides for resilience improvements. Participants were also asked about information or training needs relating to resilience; resilience metrics and assessment methods was the most often-cited need in this area.

The project also documented five case studies, detailed in Chapter 5, which were selected to include multijurisdictional and collaborative examples that represent transferrable practices for integrating resilience into agency efforts:

  • Arizona DOT has collaborated with the U.S. Geological Survey to leverage data and tools to help understand how extreme rain events and resulting peak flows may affect agency assets, following the department's participation in the FHWA Climate Change Resilience Pilot Program. ADOT has operationalized a Resilience Program within the department and developed a Resilience Investment Economic Analysis process to help the agency quantify benefits of and economically justify resilience investments.
  • Colorado DOT used ASME's Risk Analysis Management for Critical Asset Protection framework to complete a full risk assessment of the I-70 corridor within the state and to develop hazard mitigation plans for high-risk sections. These efforts follow on lessons learned from the 2013 floods that severely affected infrastructure and communities in the state, and subsequent cross-agency and cross-governmental collaboration to improve communications and coordination, and develop a Colorado Resilience Framework.
  • Delaware DOT has worked for years on integrating resilience considerations into policy and planning, due to the high exposure of a large proportion of the state's infrastructure to coastal flooding and inundation. Informed by their FHWA-sponsored climate change pilot project and various statewide collaborative planning and assessment efforts, DelDOT is working on developing an improved asset inventory, data collection and monitoring tools, and an updated bridge design manual, among other efforts.
  • The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey first issued an administrative order regarding environmental impacts of agency operations in 2006, and since then has continued to integrate resilience through policy, design guidelines, and project implementation. In 2015, the agency adopted Climate Resilience Design Guidelines as a component of the Engineering Department Manual. The agency has also analyzed vulnerability and risk for a variety of its infrastructure (which includes airports, tunnels and bridges, marine terminals, and more).
  • The Genessee Transportation Council, the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the Greater Rochester, NY region, has utilized¬†FHWA's Vulnerability Assessment Framework to understand consequences of climate change - especially for critical facilities, develop a process to prioritize assets and investments, and identify appropriate adaptation and hazard mitigation strategies.

The synthesis found that while resilience is gaining ground and policies becoming more established, it has yet to be fully integrated into practice through existing processes in transportation agencies. The synthesis identifies several possible barriers as explanations, detailed in the study findings in Chapter 6:

  • The relationship between risk and resilience is not well understood, and as a result there are missed opportunities for using risk-assessment processes (e.g., as part of developing risk-based asset management plans) to integrate resilience.
  • There is a lack of understanding of the monetary value of system resilience, preventing agencies from justifying added upfront costs of adaptation, and agencies lack metrics to measure resilience.
  • There is a lack of guidance and tools to help agencies understand the relationships between resilience and existing federally-mandated performance measures, including safety, infrastructure health, and system operations.

The synthesis report was funded through the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, administered by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. It was part of a larger project, "Synthesis of Information Related to Highway Problems," that was designed to gather and synthesize existing information from all sources (past research, practitioner expertise, etc.) on different topics - including resilience - in order to document current knowledge and practice and ensure that valuable research does not go unused.

Publication Date: 2018

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  • Best practice
  • Case study
  • Progress report

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