State DOTs and MPOs develop adaptive strategies with help of climate change pilot program grants

By Mary Ebeling

Recent severe weather events have levied significant damage on transportation systems in states across the country. Many states, particularly those recently affected, are paying attention to the climate-related vulnerabilities in their transportation systems. Some are using grant money from FHWA to complete analysis on how to respond to the changes and how to build a more resilient system. Repairing the immediate damage brings needed infrastructure back on line, but without a longer-term view to meet future climate-related challenges head on, state DOTs may find themselves continually scrambling to respond to the most recent event and to find the money to repair the damage caused by these storms.

Damage caused by extreme heat, hurricanes, dust storms, storm surges, or sea-level rise affects transportation infrastructure across modes. Strategies to address these impacts vary, and FHWA divides common approaches into the following broad categories: developing adaptation measures, developing mitigation tools, increasing sustainability, and improving energy efficiency.

As part of its Climate Resilience Pilot grant program, FHWA provides grants to DOTs, MPOs, and other agencies using federal transportation funds to develop measures and strategies to address the effects of climate change on transportation infrastructure. The awarded grants display a wide variety of concerns and reflect conditions specific to each state or geographic area. The 2013-2014 grant recipients include 14 DOTs: Arizona, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and the Maryland State Highway Association.  Local government pilots include the Austin, TX, (Capital Area) MPO; North Central Texas Council of Governments; the Metropolitan Transportation Council (San Francisco Bay Area); Broward County and Hillsborough MPOs, both in Florida.

Notably Arizona DOT’s study, funded through the FHWA program, examines how future extreme weather events could affect the infrastructure and travel on Interstates 10, 17, and 19. With this grant, ADOT seeks to develop adaptive strategies covering a wide range of changing weather patterns across the state—from more extreme heat events and dust storms in the south, to increasingly severe blizzards in the northern part of the state. In examples from other grants, Tennessee DOT has partnered with MPOs throughout the state to evaluate the vulnerability of the state’s multimodal infrastructure, and the San Francisco-area Metropolitan Transportation Commission is studying adaptive strategies to address anticipated sea-level rise. Agencies managing highway and bridge infrastructure along the barrier islands in the southeast also may benefit from the research MTC is conducting.

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.