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Transportation RISE Conference: Resilient Efforts Across Colorado

By Quentin Boose, Intern for the Office of Process Improvement
Posted: October 31th, 2018

Transportation professionals from public and private sectors convened in Denver from October 8th-10th for the 2018 Transportation Resilience Innovation Summit and Exchange (RISE). Presented by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Transportation Research Board (TRB), and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Transportation RISE provided over 350 conference attendees with the tools to implement resilient practices into different transportation systems. Of the diverse RISE participants, one hundred were transportation consultants, and twelve were Chief Executives of state transportation departments. CDOT’s Process Improvement Interns had the opportunity to attend the summit as scribes for the different breakout sessions containing a myriad of resiliency related topics.

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Pictured above, CDOT Office of Process Improvement Interns attending the 2018 Transportation RISE conference

A large portion of the Summit and Exchange consisted of presentations regarding resilient emergency management techniques in times of significant transportation disruptions. The emergency events showcased included bridge failures, tunnel fires, and cyber attacks from across the United States. Subject matter experts (SMEs) within their crisis field shared experiences with these disasters and the means necessary to combat the difficulties faced when the unknown and unexpected arose.

Corey Stark, of the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM), took audience members through Colorado’s resilient response to the 2013 Front Range Floods. He spoke to how the division assessed damage and categorized the 110 necessary emergency repairs, along with their way of prioritizing the reclamation of roadways. The interdepartmental effort from around Colorado opened the roadways two days before Governor Hickenlooper's deadline.

Michael Lewis, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, issued the keynote address of the event, entitled, “Resiliency in the Circle of Life”. The focus was to ask how to minimize the effects of an emergency by implementing techniques of resiliency in the CDOT circle of life: planning, designing, building, operating, and maintaining. In Colorado, the Interstate-70 corridor through the Rocky Mountains is the major stretch of highway for the transportation of goods and travel within the state, with over two million vehicles passing through monthly. Prone to heavy snow and severe weather conditions, this fragile stretch of highway regularly experiences road closure during the winter months. In order to improve congestion and reduce the amount of shutdown, CDOT broke down the corridor into different segments and assessed the risk of each section using its Risk Formula:

Risk ($) = Consequence * Vulnerability * Threat

With this formula, the different corridor segments received resources proportional to the level of risk. From there, resiliency assessments were created according to the section’s needs, including the Public Comment Map and the Areas of Special Attention. Since then, various projects have been implemented, such as the I-70 Mountain Express Lanes, and the mountain corridor has seen a successful reduction of travel times by an average of 30 minutes on ski weekends.

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Above: Mike Meader, Security, and Safety Officer Colorado DOT, speaks to the audience about the role of public transportation in community resilience

The 2018 Transportation RISE summit was capped off by presenting overall lessons gleaned from the three-day forum. The various Departments of Transportation called for participants to integrate resilience practices into the project planning stage. Reactionary measures tend to slow resilience and become more costly once adversity hits a community, leading to repeat construction if the same disaster strikes again. By accounting for disaster and implementing resiliency at the beginning, DOTs can avoid costly repairs and transportation delays by engineering stronger and more adaptable infrastructure.

When Colorado was hit with its historic floods in 2013, the US Highway 36 was constructed in a holistic fashion from Lyons to Estes Park. The road was widened with larger shoulders to accommodate bicyclists and some mountain curves were softened to give greater visibility for motorists. The flooding of the mountain road gave CDOT the opportunity to make travel safer and more resilient as reconstruction efforts also included stream stabilization, where high and low flow river channels were constructed to prevent washout when future flooding events occur.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is incorporating resilience innovations within its infrastructure projects. Transportation RISE gave CDOT employees the opportunity to share projects and learn about other resiliency initiatives other Departments of Transportation are implementing. Mike Lewis reiterated about resiliency projects, “[They] are not here to save the world, but if we do our work, we can save lives and we can save money.”

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