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Subject: INFORMATION: Integration of Resilient Infrastructure in the Emergency Relief Program Date: October 11, 2019
From: /s/ Hari Kalla,
Associate Administrator for Infrastructure

/s/ Gloria Shepherd
Associate Administrator for Planning, Environment and Realty

Reply to Attn. of: HIF-1
To: Associate Administrators
Division Administrators
Directors of Field Services

This memorandum is being issued to provide clarity on how States can incorporate resilience into their ER program funded projects. The FHWA defines resilience as the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing conditions and withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from disruptions.[1] Transportation agencies across the country are assessing ways to ensure that transportation infrastructure is resilient and is prepared for and able to withstand, respond to, and quickly recover from disasters in the future.

Resilience includes the ability of transportation agencies to adapt State transportation infrastructure and assets to changing conditions. Roads and bridges are typically engineered to withstand a certain set of conditions. However, older structures may have been designed before modern standards were in place, or conditions may have changed. For instance, streamflow may increase outside of the parameters for which a culvert or bridge was designed due to rapid residential and commercial development in a watershed and associated increases in impervious surfaces. As another example, precipitation patterns may have changed since the road was designed.

Characteristics that make roads and bridges more resilient include features such as hydraulic structures engineered to accommodate streamflow up to or exceeding the level of the return period storm the agency has decided is the proper level of risk, shoreline stabilization methods such as stone or vegetation that prevent road erosion from flooding, scour protection measures for bridge piers, and the siting of facilities to avoid hazardous areas and minimize exposure.

Improving resilience when planning, designing, maintaining, and repairing transportation assets may yield cost savings in the long term, through reduced repair costs, improved safety, and reduced travel disruption.

FHWA statutes and regulations require State DOTs and MPOs to consider resilience in the transportation planning process and include resilience considerations in asset management plans.[2] Expenditures that improve the resilience of transportation assets to changing conditions are generally eligible under the National Highway Performance Program and the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program.[3]

In addition to the above-listed funding programs, Emergency Relief (ER) Program funds that are provided following a disaster may be used on repairs that improve the long-term resilience of the Federal-aid highways, if 1) consistent with current standards,[4] or 2) the State DOT demonstrates that the resilience feature is economically justified to prevent future recurring damage.[5]

  1. Consistent with current standards. Repaired facilities may be rebuilt to current geometric and construction standards. Simply rebuilding to current standards may result in a resilience improvement. For example, following current hydraulic standards may result in a larger culvert, which will allow larger stream flows to pass under the roadway without washing out the pavement. Rebuilding to current standards is not considered a betterment and does not require economic justification.

  2. Economically justified. If rebuilding to current standards does not reduce risks to acceptable levels, facilities being repaired under the FHWA ER program may use ER funds for betterments (added protective features), if the State DOT can demonstrate that that the feature is economically justified to prevent future recurring damage. The economic justification must weigh the cost of the betterment against the risk of eligible recurring damage and the cost of future repair. Note that for the justification, only costs to the FHWA ER program are included. Other costs, such as traveler delay or reduced economic activity, are not included.

If the State DOT plans to fund a betterment that is not economically justified, the State DOT may use ER funding up to cost of repairing to current standards. The State DOT may then use its own funds or other apportioned Federal-aid funds to cover any incremental costs beyond ER eligible costs.

The FHWA, State DOTs, and LPAs should follow this process for integrating resilience into ER Program decisions:

  1. Prior to disasters, ensure that State and metropolitan transportation plans and State asset management plans include resilience and risk considerations as required by federal regulations.[6], [7] This facilitates incorporating resilience considerations in decisions such as siting new transportation facilities, allocating funds to rehabilitate or protect assets, and including adaptive action in regular maintenance and rehabilitation of assets. See https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/sustainability/resilience/ for technical assistance.
  2. Ensure that the State DOT has completed the evaluation of facilities repeatedly requiring repair, as required by 23 CFR part 667. Information and strategies in these documents can inform resilience improvements pursued in project development inside and outside of the FHWA ER Program. See Questions and Answers Regarding Implementation of 23 CFR Part 667: Periodic Evaluation of Facilities Repeatedly Requiring Repair and Reconstruction Due to Emergency Events for guidance.
  3. When developing Detailed Damage Inspection Reports (DDIR), discuss the cause of the asset failure and likelihood of recurrence. Discuss potential for resilience improvements from rebuilding to current standards or rebuilding with protective features that would save the FHWA ER Program money over time. Discuss eligibility of ER Program funds and other Federal-aid Program funds for resilience. The DDIR form on the ER Data Portal is being designed to include fields for capturing recurrent damage data and assisting with the consideration of measures to increase infrastructure resilience.
  4. Develop and review economic justifications for any betterments and ensure they comply with all federal requirements. Note that a betterment may not satisfy economic justification for use of ER funding, but may be a desirable resilience betterment based on additional factors (traveler delay, reduced economic activity, etc.), and be funded with State funding or other apportioned federal-aid funds.
  5. After the emergency event, ensure the State DOT updates the evaluation of facilities repeatedly needing repair to the extent needed to add any roads, highways, or bridges that were affected by the event, and reflecting improvements to damaged facilities intended to increase resilience.
  6. Share best practices with other State DOTs through FHWA's ongoing technical assistance and information sharing webinars, case studies, and trainings. See ER Program website at: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/programadmin/erelief.cfm.

The FHWA has extensive research, technical assistance, and guidance on incorporating resilience into transportation decision-making available at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/sustainability/resilience/. These include:

Please note that building resilience should also be considered during the delivery of projects under the Emergency Relief for Federally-owned Roads (ERFO) Program. Existing procedures on betterments can be found in 23 CFR 668.209 and guidance in Chapter 4, Section 4.4 - Betterments, of the ERFO Manual dated October 2014. For more information, please contact Sergio Mayorga, ERFO Program Manager, at 703-404-6247.

Please direct questions to Mr. Greg Wolf (202-366-4655) or Ms. Kathleen Hulbert (202-809-4758) of the Office of Stewardship, Oversight and Management.

[1] FHWA Order 5520, December 14, 2014.

[2] 23 U.S.C. 134( i )(2)(G); 23 CFR 450.206(a)(9); 23 CFR 450.306(b)(9); 23 CFR 450.316(b); 23 CFR 450.324(f)(7); 23 CFR 515.7(b); 23 CFR 515.7(c)(1); and 23 CFR part 667.

[3] 23 U.S.C. 119(d)(2)(B) and (C); and 23 U.S.C. 133(b)(9).

[4] See 23 U.S.C. 125(d)(2); 23 CFR 668.109(d).

[5] See 23 U.S.C. 125(d)(2); 23 CFR 668.109(b)(6).

[6] State and metropolitan planning requirements related to resilience are found at 23 CFR 450.206(a)(9), 23 CFR 450.306(b)(9), 23 CFR 450.316(b), and 23 CFR 450.324(f)(7).

Asset management plans must identify risks, including current and future environmental conditions, that can affect NHS pavements and bridges and the performance of the NHS (23 CFR 515.7(c)(1) and 515.9(d)(6)).

[7] See 23 CFR part 667, which outlines requirements to include resilience consideration within approved asset management plans.

Updated: 10/24/2019
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