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EMERGENCY RELIEF GUIDANCE

The Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Emergency Relief, or ER, program can help State and local agencies fund repairs to Federal-aid eligible roads, bridges, and other infrastructure after a natural disaster or catastrophic event.

The repair work within the right of way of Federal-aid highways is usually eligible to receive ER funds, if the roadway is in an affected county that is included in the Governor's Declaration or Presidential Declaration.

FEMA Website for Presidential Disaster Declaration

The decision to seek financial assistance for a disaster event under the FHWA's ER program rests with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). Local agencies with damage to Federal-aid highways should make their application for ER reimbursement through Caltrans. It is Caltrans’ responsibility to seek ER funding for the repair of Federal-aid highways, regardless of which jurisdiction.

The ER Process:

The FHWA Emergency Relief Manual outlines two types of repairs following a disaster: emergency repairs and permanent repairs.

Emergency repairs are made during or right after a disaster to restore essential traffic, to minimize the extent of damage, or to protect the remaining facilities. Repairs that go beyond these three objectives are permanent repairs. State and local highway authorities are empowered to immediately begin emergency repairs to restore essential traffic service and to prevent further damage to Federal-aid highway facilities.  Properly documented costs with before and after photos are usually eligible for reimbursement. On the other hand, permanent repairs require prior FHWA approval. 

Permanent repairs are those repairs undertaken after the occurrence of a disaster to restore the highway to its pre-disaster condition. The total cost of ER funding for a project is limited to the cost of repair or reconstruction of a comparable facility that meets the current geometric and construction standards required for the types and volume of traffic that the facility will carry over its design life. This eligibility is limited to those portions of the facility that have been damaged.

Damage Assessments: Caltrans in coordination with FHWA CA Division engineers, undertakes damage surveys and/or detailed site inspections. This may include local authorities where appropriate. Typically, this involves on-the-ground visits of the damage sites to verify the extent of damage and to determine the cost of repairs eligible for ER funding. Specific sites not visited by FHWA are subject to review and approval of all required documentation.

Implementation of Projects: ER construction contracts are advanced generally in similar fashion as regular Federal-aid highway projects. Caltrans generally takes the lead in seeing that projects are advanced in accordance with appropriate Federal and State requirements. The total amount of ER funding provided is based on the Federal share of actual costs incurred by Caltrans and local highway authorities to complete eligible repair activities.

The Final ER eligibility and reimbursement will be based on the documentation submitted showing cost, justification and compliance with Federal requirements.

Key Items for Local Authorities:

Identify your Federal-aid highway routes: Create a list of the Federal-aid routes in your county or community. Damage to these routes is potentially eligible for funding under FHWA's ER program.
Federal-aid highways generally include interstates, freeways, arterials, and major collector roads. Usually rural minor collectors and local roads are not eligible.

California Road System (CRS) Maps for Roadway Functional Classification

Federal Requirements:Be familiar with the federal requirements for construction contracts and the roles and responsibilities of State and Local Agencies administering the ER Projects.

FHWA Contract Administration Core Curriculum Manual

Document emergency repair costs: If you are undertaking emergency repairs to restore essential traffic, minimize damage, or protect remaining facilities, keep good records of the costs incurred. Be sure to take pictures of the damaged area before undertaking any repair work. These will be critical when Caltrans or the local agency seek reimbursement under the ER program.

Permanent repair work: Remember, permanent repair work requires prior approval by the FHWA division office.

For additional information, visit Caltrans Division of Local Assistance ER homepage: Caltrans Emergency Relief Website (Local Assistance)

Contact Information

FHWA CA Division Emergency Relief Program Manager: Keaton Browder (916) 498-5344

Contact Caltrans: Caltrans Service Request

Current California Highway Conditions: Current Roadway Conditions and Caltrans Quick Map

Caltrans Division of Local Assistance Emergency Relief Website Link: Local Programs Emergency Relief Website

Web Resources: The Emergency Relief process is explained in a series of four videos:

  1. Program Overview and Eligibility 
  2. Initial Steps for Requesting ER Funds 
  3. Steps for Receiving Reimbursement of ER Expenses 
  4. Emergency versus Permanent Repairs

Note: Each video has a printable “Companion Resource” on its website.

Printable Companion to Videos

Web links to related Code of Federal Regulations and other links.

To view PDF files, you can use the Adobe® Reader®.

Page last modified on January 30, 2019
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000