December 9, 2022
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The Federal Highway Administration recently issued $5.2 million in “quick release” Emergency Relief or ER funds to the U.S. Forest Service as a down payment to offset costs of repair work resulting from heavy rain damage caused by Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest.

[Above photo via FHWA]

Many of the roads in the El Yunque National Forest remain impassable for passenger vehicles and FHWA said its engineers as well as those from the U.S. Forest Service are currently undertaking emergency work, including debris removal and slope stabilization.

That $5.2 million funding is in addition to the $8 million in ER funds FHWA issued in late September to repair Hurricane Fiona flooding and landslide damage to highways and bridges on the island.

Stephanie Pollack. Photo by the FHWA.

“The Federal Highway Administration is working closely with the Forest Service to repair the damage caused by heavy rainfall in El Yunque National Forest,” said Acting FHWA Administrator Stephanie Pollack in a statement. “The emergency relief funding we are providing will help get those repairs done as soon as possible and better prepare this area for future rain events.”

To that end, a panel of state department of transportation and FHWA leaders recently discussed some of the lessons learned from hurricane recovery efforts undertaken by Florida and Puerto Rico.

Eileen Vélez-Vega, the Puerto Rico Department of Transportation and Public Works’ first-ever female secretary, joined Jared Perdue – secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation – and Jamie Christian – FHWA Florida, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands Division administrator – on the panel, held in October during the 2022 American Association of State Highway and Transportation Official Annual Meeting in Orlando.

FHWA’s Christian said providing immediate fiscal aid is often the key role his agency plays in such disaster recovery efforts.

“While you are out there clearing and preparing roads – we need to come along and provide support,” he said. “It’s about providing money needed right away for repair costs and we make it a very quick process [so states] can start paying for things now.”

Eileen Vélez-Vega. Photo by AASHTO.

Vélez-Vega also stressed the vital importance of federal fiscal support for the series of hurricanes that pummeled Puerto Rico over the last several years, including Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 and Hurricane Fiona in 2022.

“We’ve had our share of hurricanes over the last five years and we’ve had a lot of federal help to recover from them,” she said. “Over the last two or three years, those storms have changed the project map in Puerto Rico. It is a big change but we are moving along. Cash is very important for getting repairs done. It takes time and a lot of money and we are still in recovery from them.”

editor@aashto.org

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