On a system as large and busy as the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, there are bound to be emergencies. We have more than 4,500 lane miles of roadway, and our customers log more than 13 billion miles annually. Yet, we believe we can lessen the occurrence of crises and subsequently reduce the amount of time we spend responding to future roadway impacts by investing time today in risk management and resiliency planning. The key is to start adapting new policies and designs now for the inevitable demands of the future.
Managing for today
Crisis management happens in the “now” when a toll authority finds itself knee-deep in an event that is, or could, negatively impact its customers. For example, last year Hurricane Ida unexpectedly stalled over New Jersey depositing more than 9 inches of rain on our system in 6 hours, resulting in a nearly 500-year storm event that severely impacted specific sections of our roadway. Portions of our system flooded that had never flooded before, and we shifted into crisis mode to clear and reopen the inundated areas of our roadways as quickly as possible.
Managing for tomorrow
After the flood waters receded, we reviewed the event and identified measures that might help us avoid a repeat in the future. The practice of applying what you’ve learned from past experiences to help you anticipate and mitigate similar future events is the essence of risk management. To prevent future floods, for example, we identified areas along our system that become impassable during intense downpours and made significant efforts through our Asset Management Program to ensure the drainage systems function as designed.
Risk management also has proven effective in designing and constructing projects. From my years as a project manager, I know issues concerning utilities, right of way and permitting have historically derailed projects, causing significant delays and cost overruns. When we launched the $2.3 billion New Jersey Turnpike Interchange 6 to 9 Widening Program in 2008, we invested heavily in mitigating those three risk categories. At the peak of construction, the Widening Program was the largest ongoing roadway project in the Western Hemisphere. Yet, we delivered 170 new turnpike lane miles on schedule and $300 million under budget, largely as a result of mitigating those three areas of concern from day one. The 6 to 9 Program model of addressing risk areas early in the design process serves as a guide for how we approach projects today.
Managing for the future
Unlike the short-term perspective of risk management, resiliency planning attempts to anticipate and mitigate long-term risks that could occur 20, 50 or 100 years from now. For example, the Authority has begun investing in our facilities to make our system more resilient to address the inevitable impacts of climate changes, including sea level rise and more frequent and larger rain events. The process of being more resilient tomorrow must begin today. If we wait, the scope and costs of remediation will only grow larger. It is far more cost effective to build resilient measures into today’s projects compared to reconstructing them in the future.
However, efforts to make our system safer and more resilient are pointless unless neighboring systems also fortify their systems against the same threats. In other words, resiliency is a shared effort. If we implement proactive measures to ensure an evacuation route remains open under extreme weather conditions, but the owners of the surrounding roadway networks don’t implement the same type of improvements, our efforts may fall short. Collaboration and coordination with surrounding jurisdictions are imperative for the regional transportation network to function effectively. A toll authority may not have complete control over the resiliency of its roadways. The extent to which it can fortify its system may depend on the cooperation of others.
The silver lining to this reality, however, is prioritization. Improving a system’s resiliency can be an overwhelming task. Worse, there is no panacea project or point in the future when we will be able to declare our system resilient. Below are a few of the steps the Authority is taking to increase the resiliency of its network:
- Identify critical infrastructure and mobility links. We have identified the critical infrastructure and mobility links in our system that cannot be out of service, no matter what. They include evacuation routes, bridges that connect communities to basic necessities, the traffic management center, maintenance districts, service areas and toll facilities.
- Conduct an exposure analysis. We also are conducting an exposure analysis of our entire system, modeling future increased precipitation and sea level rise over multiple time horizons to identify and assess our system’s most vulnerable areas. We will then use this knowledge to develop and construct mitigation strategies to prepare for, withstand and recover quicker from future events. This approach is an essential component of our roadmap to greater resiliency.
- Update procedures. We are updating our procedures manual and our design manual to utilize a prospective lens toward future hazards. For example, the revised design criteria will look at storm events in the year 2100. This may require design manual changes to disallow the use of spread footings on bridges over waterways, which could be undermined by a large storm event, call for more robust riprap designs or necessitate increasing drainage pipe sizes in critical areas of our roadways on all future construction contracts. These examples are relatively inexpensive if built into today’s contracts, whereas reconstructing or retrofitting facilities in the future will certainly be at a significant cost. If toll agencies aren’t certain of where to begin their resiliency efforts, their design manual is a great place to start.
- Prioritize and make decisions. Creating greater resiliency may not always be so straightforward and economical. From time to time, agencies will be forced to make difficult decisions to advance resiliency plans. For example, it might be in everyone’s best interest to build a new bridge at a higher elevation in anticipation of sea level rise to avoid future flooding. However, the higher cost of the new elevation may require the agency to defer other projects purely for budgetary reasons. Resiliency requires prioritization of long-term projects over short-term ones.
- Share best practices. As an active member of the International Bridge, Tunnel & Turnpike Association, I appreciate the opportunity to exchange best practices and learn how other agencies are addressing risk management and resiliency. We often solicit the expertise of our trusted advisers and industry consultants who are eager to share their insights.
While we may not be able to eliminate crises altogether, we can minimize their frequency or severity, thus reducing the impacts to our facilities. Identifying critical links and vulnerabilities, resolving recurring issues, prioritizing long-term projects over short-term ones, updating design manuals and networking are steps toll agencies can take now for greater resiliency tomorrow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Keller, PE, PMP
New Jersey Turnpike Authority
Keller has managed several of the NJTA’s largest capital programs during his 25-year career with the Turnpike Authority. They include the $2.3 billion widening of the turnpike between Interchanges 6 and 9, the construction of Turnpike Interchange 15X in Secaucus and the $500 million Facilities Improvement Program, under which more than 50 tolls, maintenance and state police buildings were constructed or rehabilitated. He serves on the board of directors for the International Bridge, Tunnel & Turnpike Association, is a director on the African American Chamber of Commerce Foundation New Jersey and is an external advisory board member on the European Intelligent Road Asset Management Council.
Contact him at email@example.com.
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