Increasing Colorado's resiliency

Data, support, policy and more are keys to developing a formal program



Resiliency is the cornerstone of a transportation agency’s work. After a 2013 flood along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains severely damaged approximately 500 miles of roads and bridges and required more than $700 million in emergency repairs, the Colorado Department of Transportation examined its approach to resiliency. The Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program typically provides funding to rebuild damaged assets only to their pre-disaster states. However, the administration will consider providing additional funding to build stronger, more resilient assets if a DOT can economically justify the expense.

In hopes of securing a greater level of funding, CDOT developed a data-driven benefit-cost analysis that assessed each mitigation strategy’s risk reduction effectiveness and cost effectiveness, or annualized risk reduction. The purpose of the methodology wasn’t to identify a solution by process of elimination but to help the DOT justify its requests based on hard data.

After reviewing the data-driven analysis, FHWA granted CDOT’s build-back-better funding request and asked the department to incorporate the model into its day-to-day decision-making as a proactive strategy for better understanding risks, being proactive, improving infrastructure and reducing Colorado’s dependency on emergency relief.

Building on lessons learned from the 2013 floods and other events, CDOT went beyond the FHWA’s request and developed a formal resiliency program to identify threats and implement mitigation measures proactively. To be clear, CDOT is not looking to harden its system at all costs but to invest in hardening the system where it makes sense from a long-term benefit-cost perspective. Spending a dollar now to reduce an annualized risk of $15 is a prudent investment. With that in mind, the department established four overarching program goals:

  • Reduce future risks to our system
  • Minimize the resources needed to rebuild and restore service
  • Reduce disruptions to lives and businesses
  • Lower the costs to CDOT and the traveling public in the long run

Establishing CDOT’s resiliency program and incorporating it into daily operations has been a slow process, but the department is now on the cusp of making substantial improvements. The department is updating its design standards, providing online training programs for staff and requiring all tenured projects to adopt resiliency processes.

Below are some of the tools essential to progressing CDOT’s program. The following tools are used to quantify annualized risk reduction:

1. Framework. To give the program structure, CDOT adopted the 4R Resiliency Framework, developed by Michel Bruneau, Ph.D., professor at the University of Buffalo’s Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering. It outlines four characteristics of resiliency:

  • Robustness: the strength of a system or organization
  • Redundancy: the availability of substitute systems, resources and alternative processes
  • Resourcefulness: the ability to be adaptive, creative and tenacious in crises
  • Rapidity: the ability to quickly restore operations

CDOT’s program will strive to assess and improve its critical assets in all four areas.

2. Support. CDOT’s resiliency program has the full support of executive leadership as well as key staff in all regions across the state. The DOT also established a working group of representatives from each regional transportation district to promote regional equity and an executive oversight committee to ensure the resiliency program meets the agency’s goals.

3. Data. DOTs need data to make their resiliency programs work. So, the first question a DOT should ask is, “Do we have the proper systems to capture the data we need?” For example, culvert data might include location, condition and capacity. Rockfall data might consist of location, frequency and cause. If the DOT does not have data, the next step is to secure support and funding to collect it.

4. Policy. CDOT’s most significant accomplishment to date is the formal recognition of the program. In 2018, the Transportation Commission adopted Policy Directive 1905.0, “Building Resilience into Transportation Infrastructure and Operations,” which directs CDOT to support state resilience goals by incorporating resilience in strategic decisions about transportation assets and operations. The policy directive builds on efforts since the 2013 flood to formalize and encourage future resilience activities, so the department can manage risks and successfully adapt to future challenges.

5. Criticality. Criticality is a measure of an asset’s importance to the system’s resilience and, by extension, to the success of CDOT in delivering service to travelers. Understanding an asset’s criticality allows the department to evaluate mitigation alternatives, know where emergency response plans are most urgently needed and improve alternate routes should the bridge or roadway become inoperable.

For example, a roadway’s criticality might be determined by its:

  • Average annual daily traffic
  • The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Roadway Classification factor
  • Freight value per ton at the county level
  • Tourism dollars generated at the county level
  • Social vulnerability index at the county level
  • System redundancy

CDOT headquarters collaborated with the regional transportation districts to develop a map of the state’s most critical system assets. Were there differences of opinion as to what infrastructure should be on the criticality map? Yes, but in the end, the data we used to develop the map spoke for itself, and a consensus was achieved. Overall, the DOT’s formal resiliency program ensures the transportation system will ultimately be stronger and safer in the event of a disaster.


Elizabeth Kemp Herrera, retired
Resilience Program
Colorado Department of Transportation

Elizabeth served as the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Resiliency Program Manager. She earned a master’s degree in city and regional planning from the University of California in Berkeley. In 2022, she celebrated 30 years in the industry, which included her roles as a transportation planner in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Denver metro area. During that time, she focused on multimodal planning, funding and policy.


For more information, contact:

William Johnson
Performance and Asset Management Branch Manager
Colorado Department of Transportation
Email or visit