Blog Hero Roads & Highways - Copperleaf Decision Analytics

Written by: Connor Cox

The Road Ahead: Risk, Resilience and Equity 

Copperleaf® provides enterprise decision analytics software solutions to organizations investing in and managing critical infrastructure. In this blog series, Connor Cox, Global Industry Lead for Transportation at Copperleaf, shares insights on pressing topics facing Departments of Transportation (DOTs) today.

In the first two articles in this series, we explored the challenges and opportunities US transportation agencies are facing when translating 20-year objectives into 4-year action plans, and the increasing need to address roadway condition, capacity, and safety, alongside environmental and equity concerns. Today, we examine how incorporating risk assessment and climate resilience into roadway planning can help DOTs ensure ‘build back better’ plans consider broader community impact and equity implications.

In 2022, the US experienced 18 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, and 2023 has already delivered devastating flooding, arctic blasts, ice storms, tornadoes, and drought across the country. These extreme events have sorely tested transportation networks, exposing vulnerabilities in the system, rendering routes unusable, and revealing flaws in emergency evacuation plans.

To prepare for more of these events on the horizon, transportation agencies must have a clear understanding of their risk exposure—and ensure that decisions made before an event and during the recovery period will lead to a resilient and equitable network that can better withstand and recover faster from future challenges.

In the aftermath of any significant disaster event, it is the roads, railways and ports that underpin the restoration of economic activity and the reconstruction of critical infrastructure.

Melody Benavidez and Akiko Toya
The road to recovery: Rebuilding the transport sector after a disaster
World Bank Blogs

Managing Risk to Mitigate Disaster

To understand where, when, and how to act to ensure a resilient network, DOTs across the US must perform infrastructure vulnerability assessments and develop risk profiles for candidate intervention projects. Planners must know the benefit of funding specific projects—and the potential cost of delaying.

Both the Federal Highway Administration’s Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and the more-recently introduced Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient and Cost Savings Transportation (PROTECT) program under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, compel US transportation agencies to demonstrate the impact of their project plans on risk and resilience. MAP-21 requires DOTs to publish risk-based Transportation Asset Management Plans. The PROTECT formula allocates $7.3B in funding, and prioritizes projects that reduce risk and improve the resilience of transportation networks and infrastructure.

With incentives and mandates growing, the concept of buying down risk—spending $1 today to avoid spending $6 in a few years—is increasingly appealing. In 2018, Hurricane Florence inflicted over $240M in damage to North Carolina DOT’s infrastructure. In 2019, the NCDOT obtained a $2M grant to develop a new, state-of-the-art early warning system to better prepare for the next storm. Following a flood resilience study, the state agency also prioritized hundreds of millions in funding to harden existing infrastructure, elevate at-risk roads and bridges, and improve evacuation routes.

Across the country, transportation planners must balance and prioritize funding for projects like these with the ongoing need for timely, preventative maintenance of roadways, capacity-building, and safety initiatives. To accomplish this, DOTs must incorporate new risk and resilience objectives and metrics into the planning process, and find the right combination of projects that will deliver on-road condition targets and improve resilience to extreme climate events.

When resources are limited, how can DOTs know where and how much to invest in climate resilience? It requires analysis of past and future climate risks, staff resources, funding and, of course, means to integrate an understanding of climate risks into asset management and other existing investment prioritization processes.

Cassandra Bhat, Brenda Dix, and Amanda Vargo of ICF International
Preparing transportation departments for climate change
PreventionWeb, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)

Building Back Better

Risk-informed planning, investing in preparedness measures, and maintaining and strengthening infrastructure are foundational to transportation resilience. But when extreme events expose weaknesses in the existing network, the recovery phase provides an opportunity for DOTs to build back better—and differently. Engineers can use advancements in materials and design to ensure roadways better withstand the next storm, relocate structures outside of flood zones, and optimize evacuation routes.

Projects like these are underway across the US. Under the Federal Highway Administrations Climate Challenge Initiative, the Rhode Island DOT received funding to resurface a roadway that crosses a tidal marsh with permeable pavement. In Hawaii, a $6M plastic recycling research facility will explore how waste plastic can be converted into new products for use in transportation infrastructure.

While disasters can highlight shortcomings in planning, design, and materials used to construct assets, they also present an important opportunity to rectify deficiencies and move toward more proactive risk management and lifecycle maintenance of transport assets and infrastructure.

Melody Benavidez
Transport sector recovery: Opportunities to build resilience
Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), World Bank

But building back better isn’t limited to incorporating innovative materials or design. It also means creating an equitable transportation network—and ensuring that infrastructure shortcomings in historically underserved communities are addressed. Some transportation decisions in the past haven’t supported disadvantaged groups, and in many cases, have made conditions worse. Under the Justice40 Initiative, the USDOT has set a goal to direct 40% of the benefits of federal investments to disadvantaged communities, which means state agencies must demonstrate how projects benefit those communities.

How Copperleaf Can Help

To create and fund transportation plans that deliver on long-range strategic objectives and meet the requirements of new policies, transportation agencies must be able to choose the right combination of projects for maximum impact—and react confidently and quickly when circumstances change.

For over twenty years, organizations across the infrastructure sector have relied on Copperleaf’s decision analytics solutions to accurately measure and mitigate risk, defend decisions to stakeholders, and secure funding.

Copperleaf collaborates with each of our clients to develop a decision-making framework that meets the unique needs and circumstances of their organizations. This framework incorporates the key value drivers and performance measures used to evaluate potential investments, allowing planners to compare projects with different costs and benefits on a common scale.

For transportation agencies, Copperleaf provides a means to quantify and justify cost and resource requirements, alongside cumulative impact to risk, resilience, and equity, in a transparent and defensible way. Planners can quickly compare the relative contributions of each project on key priorities—and create a balanced portfolio that delivers on day-to-day needs and long-term objectives, while meeting performance measures and staying within real-world constraints. In addition, advanced scenario planning capabilities provide the ability to model the impact of budget changes, or sudden resource reallocation due to extreme events, to better prepare for and react to changing circumstances.

In the next article in this series, we will expand on how transportation agencies can use Copperleaf’s solutions to perform data-driven decision making across multimodal operations.

In the meantime, to learn how your organization can benefit from Copperleaf’s Decision Analytics Solutions, reach out to me directly  or read our white paper: Driving Towards Better Decision Making in the Roadways Industry.


This site is registered on as a development site. Switch to a production site key to remove this banner.