If there is one thing the United States learned from Super Storm Sandy—or from the dozens of natural disasters that came before it, from the Gulf of Mexico to New England—it’s that we can never be too prepared.
Unfortunately, we can be assured that severe weather will continue to be a major factor in both the short- and long-term stability of our transportation infrastructure. The havoc these super storms wreak on our highways, roads, bridges, and tunnels translates not only into skyrocketing repair costs in the aftermath, but a risk to public safety and the reliable supply of goods and supplies during and after the event.
With more than 5,000 miles of facilities in 35 states and territories, U.S. tolling authorities recorded five billion trips last year. Those numbers underscore how important it is for our industry to stay ahead of the curve and make emergency preparedness a constant priority.
That’s why IBTTA is hosting an important panel on severe weather this week, during its board of directors meeting in Miami, FL. Entitled A Forum on Super Storm Sandy: Adaptation and Resilience, this landmark event will bring together 15 to 20 thought leaders from multiple transportation disciplines to discuss how to plan, construct, operate, and maintain toll facilities before, during, and after a natural disaster. A highlight of the day will be the lessons learned by transportation operators that were in the path of Hurricane Sandy.
Reliable mobility is a top priority in any crisis, and toll authorities already have extensive experience coping with severe weather disasters: less than 24 hours after Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise had opened a road that became South Florida’s lifeline in the days after the storm. During Sandy, social media emerged as an essential tool for delivering news updates and responding to commuters’ problems and concerns. From Twitter to Facebook to mobile apps, more and more toll agencies are using new communication technologies to help drivers anticipate weather delays, accidents, and other problems along the road.
IBTTA’s severe weather panel is the beginning of an ongoing conversation. It’s an initial platform to carefully capture the lessons learned from highly skilled, articulate transportation professionals, industry leaders, and allies. It’s a necessary discussion that puts public safety first, in order to keep goods and people moving forward. And we want to make this forum a catalyst for public policy discussions that will help governments make the most informed decisions about our transportation safety and stability.