Investing in Resiliency: Addressing the Climate Issue
As the effects of climate-related events grow in severity, there is an increasing demand for emergency construction and strong infrastructure. Funding programs, such as the Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads (ERFO) program, grant Federal agencies the ability to rebuild and reinforce damaged infrastructure. This program not only helps in the recovery from economic losses, but also prepares communities for future disasters through resilient design and construction practices.
The ERFO program provides financial assistance to Federal agencies when natural disasters severely damage Tribal facilities, Federal facilities, and “other federally owned roads that are open to the public” (Federal Highway Administration). The program intends to supplement aid and cover the heavy expenses of repair and reconstruction. Depending on the repair, prior approval is required to begin construction and receive aid. If a Federal agency decides to make emergency repairs during or right after a disaster, prior approval is not required. If a Federal agency plans to make permanent repairs, occurring after the disaster, approval is required.
Funding in Action
In June 2022, several rivers in Yellowstone National Park experienced historic flooding due to heavy rainfall and late snowmelt. One of those rivers was the Gardner River, which flows along the North Entrance Road. During the historic flooding, Gardner River had a provisionally determined peak flow of 2,890 cubic feet per second. This is nearly four times its average peak snowmelt flow of 800 cubic feet per second. The flooding severely damaged the road, as rockslides occurred along the Gardner Canyon and mudslides washed away parts of the road. Consequently, the North Entrance Road was impassable.
To quickly restore access to the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park, an administrative route connecting Mammoth, WY, to Gardiner, MT (called Old Gardiner Road), was reconstructed. The single-lane dirt road was converted into a two-lane paved road with the addition of a guardrail and a “new quarter-mile approach road into Mammoth Hot Springs” (National Park Service (NPS), “Flood Recovery Updates”) to avoid a steep grade ranging from 12 to 15 percent. The goal was to have the road “open year-round to provide access to people who live and work in Mammoth as well as those who live outside the Northeast entrance in Cooke City” (Benjamin Vincent, Western Federal Lands Highway Division (WFLHD)). The temporary route was designed and constructed in 4 months by WFLHD of FHWA. This project was largely funded by the ERFO program (NPS, “Flood Recovery Updates”).
The efforts to reopen the north entrance did not stop there. NPS and FHWA are currently working closely together to come up with a long-term and permanent solution for a new entrance road. According to NPS, “the criteria for selection will focus largely on alternatives that are least environmentally impacting, least visually impacting, most resilient to future natural disasters, most expeditious and cost effective, and take advantage of unimpacted existing road infrastructure if possible” (NPS, “Flood Recovery Updates”). With these criteria in mind, WFLHD designer Steven Davis and a cross-functional (multidisciplinary) team from WFLHD were able to develop three potential alignments. The team recently presented the alignments to representatives from Yellowstone National Park, NPS, and other partners involved. The parties were able to analyze the alignments through plan sheets, three-dimensional models, and walking the alignments from start to end by traversing through unpaved areas. The cross-functional team received detailed feedback from the meeting and plan to incorporate them into the proposed alignments. WFLHD will continue to “refine all three proposed alignments until the Yellowstone National Park staff selects a preferred alignment” (Steven Davis, WFLHD) to construct. The project timeline and construction efforts for the North Entrance Road will be “predicated on which alternative is selected” (NPS, “Flood Recovery Updates”).
Investing in transportation infrastructure is an important step in addressing climate change and natural disasters. With the help from programs such as the ERFO program, transportation agencies, like FHWA, can restore damaged infrastructure and adopt innovative construction techniques, materials, and technology that can withstand climate-related stresses. These efforts will improve the durability of transportation infrastructure, providing safety and mobility for all. By investing in resilience, transportation systems can withstand the effects of climate change and natural disasters and support the needs of future generations.
Michael Tang is a student at the University of Portland in Portland, OR. Michael is currently studying civil engineering and will graduate in 2024.
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