Preparing Colorado’s Transportation Infrastructure for Climate Impacts

Coloradans depend on our transportation system to not only get them to their jobs and destinations of interest, but to move essential materials and goods to homes and businesses across the state. Climate change impacts, like flooding events and wildfires, pose a growing risk to our transportation infrastructure and operations. Building resiliency into Colorado’s transportation system helps maintain road access for emergency services and response efforts, helping communities recover from a range of impacts.

What is resilience? The State of Colorado defines resilience as “the ability of communities to rebound, positively adapt to, or thrive amidst changing conditions or challenges—including human-caused and natural disasters—and to maintain quality of life, healthy growth, durable systems, economic vitality, and conservation of resources for present and future generations.” As it relates to our transportation system, this means the ability for our network (i.e., roads, bridges, rail, airport, etc.) to remain operational despite unexpected climate events.

Why should we care? In 2013 alone, flooding in Colorado caused over $700 million in damage to our transportation network. Although our existing transportation system is designed to handle a broad range of conditions, the scope of potential events was based on historic climate conditions. Now we understand that the climate patterns we’re facing are projected to increase in both frequency and intensity, which includes events such as flooding, blizzards, and wildfires. By anticipating and planning for future conditions, we can proactively combat disruption and damage to our transportation system when these events occur.

Strategies to Achieve a Resilient Transportation Network

The transportation industry should anticipate and plan for future conditions, considering the following strategies:

  • Provide mode choice to our system, such as providing transit, sidewalk amenities, bike trails, etc.
  • Add redundancy to the network, such as providing multiple effective routes for travelers or increasing the number of effective connections between a specific origin-destination pairing
  • Integrate asset management, including infrastructure such as fiber-optic networks, signals, signage, and pavements
  • Strengthen assets that are vulnerable to extreme weather
  • Support policies that consider the relationship between the built and natural environments

To protect the safety and wellbeing of Colorado citizens, we must prepare our transportation infrastructure to combat the escalating climate impacts.

Melissa Rosas is a Senior Vice President with CONSOR Engineers, LLC dba Apex Design. As a board member to several non-profits, including Move Colorado and Denver Urban Gardens, she believes strongly that addressing resiliency in our transportation network supports the growth of vibrant Colorado communities.