Preparing for climate change in Massachusetts

By Chris Spahr

On January 14, Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts announced $52 million in funding for a statewide plan to address the present and future impacts of climate change.  Citing weather events such as Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, which washed out Route 2 in North Adams and created $23 million worth of damage to a six-mile stretch, the governor pointed out that climate change is creating more disruptive weather and challenging public health, safety, and economic vitality.

While much of the funding will be in the form of municipal grants to cities and towns to improve their energy services at critical sites, some funding will go toward assessing the vulnerabilities of transportation facilities and adoption of climate adaptation plans by 2015.  “The MassDOT team is committed to undertaking a thorough assessment of the Commonwealth’s transportation network to identify vulnerabilities,” said MassDOT Secretary Richard A. Davey. “Through our planning and action we will be laying the groundwork necessary to react to climate change and its impact on our rails, ports, roads, and bridges.”

The Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report, which was published in September 2011 and acted as a catalyst for some of the committed investments, makes certain recommendations to better prepare transportation facilities for extreme weather.  Some of the strategies in the plan include adjusting standard maintenance and inspection procedures and developing financing mechanisms to fund anticipated expenses to address climate change impacts at the state and local levels.

The $40 million worth of grants to local governments will be paid for through Alternative Compliance Payments, which are made by electricity suppliers that do not meet state standards for the use of renewable energy. Another element of the plan, coastal infrastructure upgrades and dam repairs, will receive $10 million and will be paid for through existing capital funding.  The remaining $2 million, including funding for transportation vulnerability assessments, will be part of the governor’s 2015 budget proposal.

Chris Spahr is a Graduate Assistant with SSTI.