FHWA Lacks Detailed Guidance on Infrastructure Resilience for Emergency Relief Projects and a Process To Track Related Improvements
What We Looked At
The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Emergency Relief Program (ERP) provides funds for the repair and reconstruction of highways and roads that have sustained serious damage from catastrophic failures or natural disasters, including extreme weather events. Since fiscal year 2012, Congress has appropriated approximately $5.7 billion to the ERP. The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) current draft strategic plan states that the Department will better ensure that infrastructure is resilient enough to withstand extreme weather that could disrupt the transportation network and require major reconstruction. Because of the importance resilience plays in ensuring a safe and reliable transportation system, we assessed FHWA’s guidance and processes for incorporating resilience improvements into emergency relief projects to rebuild damaged highway infrastructure.
What We Found
While FHWA’s primary guidance for the ERP was updated in 2013 to include a greater focus on infrastructure resilience, we found it to be inadequate in some areas. The guidance does not define “resilience improvement,” inform States how to incorporate resilience improvements into emergency relief projects, or share related best practices. These gaps in the guidance have led to inconsistent interpretations of what resilience is by the Agency’s Division Offices and State DOTs, and make it difficult for State DOTs to make informed decisions about how they should use emergency relief funding for projects. As a result, States may not be improving the resilience of transportation infrastructure to the extent possible.
FHWA also has no process to track State DOTs’ efforts to include resilience improvements in their emergency relief projects. While no specific requirement exists for FHWA to conduct such tracking, the Agency’s lack of data on resilience improvements impedes its ability to ensure that the benefits of resilience are achieved in emergency relief projects and enhance its stewardship of ERP funds.
FHWA concurred with two of our recommendations to strengthen the Agency’s ERP guidance on resilience and enhance its oversight of ERP-funded projects, and partially concurred with the third.