Colorado is slowly beginning to rebuild after “biblical” floods devastated much of the state. Not least of Colorado’s worries is how to rebuild its massively damaged infrastructure. The flood ravaged an estimated 200 miles of state highways, as well as local roads, bridges, railroad tracks, dams, sewer lines, and oil and gas pipelines.
According to the Denver Post, repairs to state-owned roads and bridges will cost $430 million. The Colorado Department of Transportation crews, contractors, and 600 National Guardsmen are working on these repairs now, with the goal of completing every road and highway by December 1.
Repair efforts are hobbled by a cap on federal emergency road funds, which only allots $100 million per disaster — a fraction of most recent disasters’ actual infrastructure costs. Congress has previously raised the cap after Mississippi River flooding in 2011, as well as Hurricanes Gustav, Ike, and Irene. On Tuesday, Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced a bill to open up these funds for Colorado. The state has received $30 million in emergency transportation funds thus far.
The threat of a government shutdown is also hurting Colorado’s recovery. The Utah National Guard is holding off on sending a team of engineers to help Colorado rebuild its highways, fearing a sudden loss of federal funding. Instead, a smaller group of 50 Guardsmen will prepare equipment in case Congress manages to strike a deal and avert the shutdown. About 240 Colorado Guardsmen who are currently working on flood missions are federally funded and may be pulled off the job if a shutdown occurs next week.
As the nation’s infrastructure ages and climate change worsens already severe storms, the cost to repair roads and bridges after each disaster will inevitably explode. Already, disaster relief expenditures are rising steadily.
Even before disaster strikes, thousands of decrepit roads and bridges pose multi-million dollar, potentially deadly risks. The American infrastructure budget, without factoring in climate change impacts, is expected to fall short by $139 billion or more over the next decade in basic maintenance and repairs.
Preventative measures to reinforce roads and bridges for the impending onslaught of more frequent, more severe storms, will be a far less expensive investment than cleaning up after each disaster. Yet most states are either unable or simply ignoring the need to plan for climate change with resilient infrastructure projects. The rest of the world is beginning to prepare by updating water systems for greater efficiency and conservation and building resilient roads designed to withstand erosion.