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RPC Involvement in the Recovery of Vermont’s Transportation Network After Tropical Storm Irene

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On April 25, 2012, the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation held the RPO America Peer Symposium, during the 2012 National Rural Transportation Conference in Burlington, Vermont.  This special session, held with support from the Federal Highway Administration, focused on “Sharing Innovations in Regional Transportation Planning.”

The session began with three presentations focusing on local roadway issues and technical assistance.  Katharine Otto from the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission in Vermont spoke about recovery of the state’s transportation network after Hurricane Irene in August 2011. She first detailed the damage caused by the storm, which was primarily due to heavy rainfall on land that was already saturated. Five weeks after the storm, a large portion of local roads were opened but damaged, while others remained closed with access only for emergency vehicles. Major state roads in Southern Windsor County, which serve as the major paved routes in the area, were also damaged. Many bridges collapsed as flooded rivers rerouted, also tearing up sections of road and co-located utilities, causing more problems for power and services.

Otto explained the traditional roles of Vermont’s RPCs, including transportation, land use, emergency, and natural resource planning, as well as GIS mapping and analysis assistance. After Irene, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) requested help from the RPCs to restore the state’s transportation networks. This primarily involved assisting municipalities with tasks such as mapping, data collection, resource matching, communications, and technical assistance. In Vermont, counties are not responsible for maintaining roads and the towns are small—ranging from 250 to 9,000 in population in this area, with an average of 3,000—and often lack resources and capacity. The Southern Windsor County RPC was well-suited for this task because of existing relationships with local staff and other officials, as well as strong working relationships with state agencies and the network of RPCs helping each other.

Otto also identified areas where the recovery process could have been improved. First, there was no established role for RPCs to assist VTrans in this context. Some staff members lacked the appropriate knowledge and training for the assignments requested. The large size of the task often led to conflicting messages and an inundation of information, as well as changing expectations that made it difficult to keep up with the demanding process. Despite these challenges, the RPC was able to help towns restore a large proportion of their roads that were damaged.

The RPCs’ work was discussed further in the webinar Lessons Learned from Irene: Regional Planning Commission Involvement in Recovery of Vermont’s Transportation Network, which occurred in June 2012. For more information on the Southern Windsor County RPC, click here.

View more presentations from RPO America

The proceedings of the 2012 RPO America Peer Symposium were researched and written by NADO Research Foundation Graduate Fellow Kate Humphrey under the direction of Associate Director Carrie Kissel.  This work is supported by the Federal Highway Administration under contract number DTFH61-10-C-00050 through the NADO Research Foundation (www.RuralTransportation.org).  Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FHWA or the NADO Research Foundation.

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