Resilient road infrastructure – paving the way to the future

Climate change and extreme weather shocks and stressors are one of the major global challenges facing today’s world. These events are increasingly receiving international, political and community attention. Scientific evidence suggests that the effects of climate change on infrastructure are diverse and potentially very large. There are significant economic, social and environmental costs associated with impacts of events on transport infrastructure and network operations both in the short and longer term in Australia alone.

The efficient operation of road networks is mainly focused on aspects relating to preservation, maintenance, repair, rehabilitation and upgrading. However, future challenges for owners and operators of road infrastructure are connected to:

  • climate change and extreme weather
  • aging infrastructure
  • natural disasters
  • man-made disasters
  • cyber and cyber-physical events.

Climate change, coupled with increasing population growth in our major cities, inherently has a large impact on society’s ability to access goods, services, and supply chains or to deploy emergency plans in the most efficient and safe way. As mobility is an important foundation for our entire social development and facilitates sustainable growth, it forms a critical backbone to achieving wider sustainable development goals as set out in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda adopted in 2015 by member countries of the United Nations 1.

In order to ensure the continued availability, quality, safety and security of transport infrastructure and road networks, long-term developments and actual or potential adverse events must be taken into account. For example, jurisdictions in Australia, such as Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, recognise that more understanding of the nature and impact of these events is required including challenges in terms of risk, costs and uncertainties associated with climate change.

A way to tackle these challenges is through the adoption of a methodological approach to resilience management / resilience engineering. Arcadis considers resilience as follows:

Capacity of cities to adapt, protect and develop their natural and built assets, dealing with chronic stresses and acute shocks, turning challenges into opportunities, improving the quality of life of their citizens.

This aligns with the definition of resilience provided by the Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities 2 organization.

Resilience is also often described by the five-phase resilience cycle shown in Figure 1 3.

five phase resilience cycle

Resilient infrastructure requires planners, asset designers, owners and operators to:

  • maintain, rehabilitate and recover existing infrastructure 9
  • identify assets susceptible to previous/future events and potential vulnerabilities (exposure and sensitivity) 9
  • assess and prioritize risks according to the level of risk probability (likelihood of future impacts on the asset) and severity (consequence of the impacts on the asset) 9
  • identify those assets that are approaching the end of their design life 9
  • adapt existing transport infrastructure to the consequences of climate change and the associated increases in extreme weather events 9
  • retrofit or build new resilient infrastructure. 9

This can be achieved by considering a number of disciplines, including planning and design, asset management, materials technology, emergency response, and investment. Key resilience focus areas include:

  • the need for collaboration and engagement with stakeholders early in the process 9
  • investing in infrastructure resilience today to reduce the economic, social and environmental cost of disaster recovery in the future; US studies show that, for every dollar invested in resilience, the return on investment is $6 4
  • learning from events in the past to inform future priorities 9
  • taking account of uncertainties using robust planning approaches, adaptive policy and decision making 5
  • adopting adaptation strategies as part of a systems approach such as hard (engineering, technical), soft 5 (including nature-based solutions) and community adaptation measures
  • identifying opportunities for co-benefits to improve the adaptive capacity of infrastructure and opportunities for multiple benefits (congestion relief, removal of bottlenecks, mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions)
  • shifting from master planning to an asset management customer focus in terms of a “whole of organization” approach to asset management practices, whereby the needs of road users and expectations are defined in the context of both community, stakeholder, and organizational objectives 6
  • where possible, building in redundancy and alternative routes/contingency plans into road transport systems 5
  • embracing digital transformation by investigating Intelligent Transport Systems and big data solutions via vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) or vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technologies
  • identifying key linkages to other transport endeavors, e.g. in the US, Arcadis, HR&A Advisors and Sam Schwartz’s recently-developed Driverless Future: A Policy Roadmap for City Leaders, which aims to explore the key priorities city policymakers need to consider to minimize risks, maximize potential benefits, and ensuring that this transportation revolution will improve quality of life in our cities 7
  • establishing adaptation pathways to allow decision-makers to plan for, prioritise and stagger investment in adaptation options, 8 in response to new information and changing circumstances
  • developing a clear view for action to address changes in climate and weather patterns to ensure that appropriate planning is in place to address disruptions to infrastructure and operations via the development of consistent frameworks and action plans. For example, the PIARC International Climate Change Adaptation Framework for Road Infrastructure (2015) provides guidance on identifying the assessment scope, variables, data, and risks; assessing and prioritizing risks; developing and selecting adaptation responses and strategies; and integrating findings into decision making processes 9.

At Arcadis, it is recognized that an integrated systems approach connecting all levels and scales is required which focusses on emerging markets and clients in urbanized and regional locations in Australia and internationally, where road infrastructure resilience can be a key driver for the delivery of a sustainable economic, social and environmentally-friendly road network. This involves:

  • the development of strategies to address these events to ensure that appropriate planning is in place to address disruptions to road infrastructure and operations
  • the identification of the robustness of a system's ability to withstand future damage without degradation or loss of functionality 10
  • the provision of appropriate restoration and recovery strategies (safety, operations and services), and to ensure that the assets are able to adapt to future events using the most economically efficient investment options.

Infrastructure resilience is integral to achieving the sustainable development goals set out in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda if the global economy is to be enhanced and social and environmental well-being improved. Arcadis recognizes that it is necessary to develop resilience strategies to build adaptive capacity into road infrastructure and to deliver solutions which can be implemented today to provide a positive legacy for future generations.



1. https://citiesprogramme.org/our-framework/. Go back to the article.
2. http://www.100resilientcities.org/. Go back to the article.
3. K. Thoma, "Resilience-by-Design": Strategie für die technologischen Zukunftsthemen (strategy for technical issues of the future), acatech STUDY, 2014. Go back to article.
4. https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2018/01/12/477024.htm. Go back to the article.
5. https://www.irfnet.ch/files-upload/newsletters/2016/mailing_09112016/IRF_Manifesto_Adaptation.pdf.
6. http://www.austroads.com.au/road-operations/asset-management/resources/guide-to-asset-management. Go back to the article.
7. http://smartinfrastruct.com/2017/09/18/taking-control-driver-less-future/. Go back to the article.
8. https://coastadapt.com.au/pathways-approach.Go back to the article.
9. https://www.piarc.org/en/order-library/23517-en-International%20climate%20change%20adaptation%20framework%20for%20road%20infrastructure.htm.
10. Brunau, M,. Chang, S.E., Eguchi, R.T., Lee, G.C., O’Rourke, T.D, Reinhorn, A.M,. Shinozuka, M., Tierney, K., Wallace, W.A. and von Winterfeldt. D. (2003) “A Framework to Quantitatively Assess and Enhance the Seismic Resilience of Communities,” Earthquake Spectra, 19(4), 733-752. Go back to the article.

Caroline Evans

Principal Economist, Advisory and Sustainability +613 8623 4197 Ask me a question
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