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After the flood: Colorado making tough decisions about how to rebuild

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The state of Colorado faces an even larger task – restoring access to isolated communities. Some 200 miles of state highways and about 50 state-maintained bridges have been severely damaged or wiped out, many in challenging mountain terrain. It's a daunting undertaking that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and will involve competing goals of speed, economy, and disaster mitigation and planning.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), who has said he wants to rebuild "stronger," has set a Dec. 1 deadline for rebuilding as much as possible, before winter sets in. Overall, though, the process will take years.

No doubt many decisions will be tough, although there could be an upside.

"The silver lining with events like this is you do have the opportunity to redo things differently – the layout of roads, the layout of towns," says Michael Gooseff, a professor of hydroecologic science and engineering at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. "Mother Nature has reset the playing field for us."

In many ways, Colorado's task is similar to the one Vermont grappled with after the storm Irene hit two years ago.

Like Colorado, Vermont is a mountainous state, and the deluge of rain poured into narrow valleys, washing away roads and bridges. The state lost some 500 miles of roadway and more than 30 bridges.

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