The Gulf Coast Study, Phase 2
Task 1: Overview
"Critical" infrastructure, as defined in this study, refers to infrastructure that serves to keep the mobility and accessibility functions of the transportation network viable as they enable the economic and social activities in the study area (please see Figure 1). That is, how important is each link or node in the transportation network in terms of its provision of access to various economically or socially significant locations? These critical assets are the keys to supporting important transportation services, supporting the economy, moving people and freight, and providing emergency management functions. Criticality was looked at primarily from the perspective of Mobile County-that is, what is important to the functioning of Mobile County itself? However, given the importance of Mobile County as a throughway for the movement of goods in the Gulf Coast states, the research team also considered the importance of port and rail facilities from the perspective of the greater Gulf Coast region.
The critical facilities and assets identified under Task 1 will undergo further analysis in later tasks to evaluate their potential exposure and vulnerability to climate change, as part of a larger assessment of the risks that climate change poses to the study area's transportation system. The modal assets assessed during this task included highways, transit, ports, rail, airports, and pipeline facilities.
Early in Task 1, the project team, in collaboration with USDOT, established certain boundaries for the scope of Task 1, including:
- Criticality, as defined at this point in the study, was not dependent on the risks associated with weather or climate change; therefore, Task 1 did not include a risk assessment. The findings in this report indicate only which transportation assets are of the greatest importance to the Mobile region, and do not indicate which assets are most at risk to climate change. Assessment of risk will occur later in the project.
- Assessments of both present and future operational characteristics were performed for this study. In most cases, transportation and resource agencies have strategic plans that extend between 5 and 30 years. An assessment of critical infrastructure more than 30 years in the future is thus difficult. For this reason, the focus of this assessment is on assets in place or planned through 2035. The design life of assets, however, did play a role in determining criticality.
- Because of the risk associated with catastrophic storms that combine wind and wave energy in a low-lying coastal area like Mobile, criteria relating to emergency management feature prominently in the assessment, perhaps more so than it would in other regions of the country.
The project team's approach to researching, screening, and identifying critical transportation assets included a multi-disciplinary team of engineers, planners, policy analysts, and climate experts and involved multiple meetings with local transportation stakeholders. Field data collection was combined with GIS assessment, evaluation of the Mobile Area Transportation Study (MATS) regional travel demand model, and desk reviews of federal, state, and industry reports. The approach adopted for undertaking Task 1 included:
Stakeholder Collaboration: A Key Component
A key element of the identification of critical infrastructure was the input from the study stakeholder group – the Mobile MPO's Climate Change Working Group (CCWG). The CCWG was convened by the MPO Executive Director and included public officials and representatives from various agencies and organizations (e.g., the Alabama Department of Transportation, Mobile County, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Department of Homeland Security, and others). The CCWG provided valuable feedback on the proposed methodology, draft results, and ultimate of the process and helped refine the findings to reflect local priorities.
- Initial Meeting with Stakeholders - An initial meeting was held with stakeholders, including representatives from local transportation agencies such as the SARPC, to introduce the project and establish a work plan. Comments on the initial approach for determining criticality were incorporated into the methodology.
- Formation of Modal Teams - Given the differences in data needs and methodologies for determining criticality among different travel modes, separate modal teams were established for roads, rail, ports, pipelines, airports, and transit. The methodology for determining the criticality of each mode is detailed later in this report.
- Selection of Criteria for Criticality - The basic framework for assessing criticality was based on three criteria:
- Socioeconomic - Factors that contributed to the economic and social functions of Mobile County, including such considerations as community connections and access to employment centers,
- Use and Operational Characteristics - Factors that indicated the level of use within the infrastructure network such as Average Daily Traffic (ADT), tonnage, ridership, etc.; and
- Health and Safety - The extent to which segments of the network provided access to health facilities, were evacuation routes or were components of the national defense system.
- Mode-specific Methodology - Criteria for evaluating the criticality of each mode were developed for each of the general categories presented in Step 3. Defining the criticality of modal assets required transportation specialists in each mode to determine which assets were most important based on mode-specific criteria.
- Data Collection - Data collection for this project included the assembly of mapping information (primarily provided by the Mobile County GIS department) to build an infrastructure inventory; interviews with agency representatives from the USDOT, SARPC, transit and port facilities; and summaries of available planning documents for each mode that identified both existing conditions and planned improvements. Limited information was available for some transportation assets, such as port and rail facilities, due to the proprietary nature of their operations. In such cases, the project team developed a number of alternate data gathering methods to classify infrastructure links or nodes as being critical. These alternate methods included conducting field interviews to obtain data required to assist in assessing the criticality of assets.
- Criticality Assessment - Using the information obtained in the data collection exercise, and the mode-specific methodology developed under Step 4, the project team assessed the criticality of each asset. To do so, assessment matrices were developed to score facilities based on community, use/operations, and health and safety criteria (explained in more detail in the following section of this report). The data available for each mode were specific to that mode; therefore, the scoring methods developed were mode-specific as well. Transportation professionals with many years of experience working with individual modes identified critical infrastructure, with the level of detail often depending on the amount of available information. Facilities were scored as being "low" to "high" in terms of criticality, with those in the high category advanced to the next stage of the project as critical infrastructure.
- Review of Initial Results - The methodology and findings of the technical analysis underlying the criticality assessment were presented to the Climate Change Work Group (CCWG) as a means of checking the assumptions made by the technical team in identifying critical infrastructure. The CCWG provided valuable feedback, noting in a few instances where assets considered important to the citizens of Mobile County were not fully reflected by the analysis. This feedback was incorporated into the final analysis by building more flexibility in the approach so that local values were better captured (please see Incorporating Local Values below).
- Finalization of the List of Critical Assets - The final list of critical assets and the accompanying report was developed based on the steps outlined above and provided to the USDOT. Modal experts within USDOT provided feedback on items within their area of expertise. This feedback was then incorporated into the final recommended list of identified critical assets.