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Assessment of the Body of Knowledge on Incorporating Climate Change Adaptation Measures into Transportation Projects

2 Overview of Research and Literature on Adaptation

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Over the last several years, government agencies, academic institutions, and other organizations have conducted substantial research on climate change adaptation within the transportation sector. These documents provide summaries of transportation adaptation initiatives underway in different geographic areas or modal types, summarize lessons learned, and provide suggestions for future activities. These documents can be valuable resources for transportation practitioners wishing to pursue adaptation initiatives. While much additional research still needs to be done, the existing work lays a strong foundation that can benefit future efforts.

Table 1 highlights nine studies that represent strong examples of existing transportation adaptation research. Some of the resources discussed here focus on identifying and evaluating specific adaptation strategies, whereas others focus on organizational process and how to mainstream adaptation within existing institutional structures. Most of the resources in Table 1 are influential, national-scale studies; however, the next section of this report identifies specific, local adaptation activities that are underway across the country.

Table 1. Summary of Existing Research on Transportation Climate Change Adaptation



"Adapting Transportation to the Impacts of Climate Change" (TRB 2011)

  • Comprehensive overview of climate change impacts and adaptation in the transportation sector
  • Includes an overview of the potential impacts that climate change may have on the transportation system; a review of activities underway at the Federal level in the U.S. and the U.K. that address the challenges of incorporating adaptation into transportation decision making; specific adaptation strategies in U.S. states; and the need for cooperation in adopting adaptation strategies

"Potential Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation" (TRB 2008)

  • Provides a detailed review of the impacts climate change will have on the U.S. transportation system
  • Discusses how climate change adaptation can be incorporated into decision making, the challenges of adaptation planning, and potential adaptation strategies

"Progress and Challenges in Urban Climate Adaptation Planning: Results of a Global Survey" (Carmin et al. 2012)

  • Survey of 468 cities to gather feedback from a broad and global group
  • Of the cities surveyed, nearly 68 percent reported some level of adaptation planning. The survey highlighted four adaptation activities that are particularly common among respondents: meeting with local government departments about adaptation; conducting research about adaptation; creating a task force or commission to support adaptation planning; and partnering with NGOs and community groups, other cities, and businesses

"Caltrans Activities to Address Climate Change" (Caltrans 2013)

  • Overview of all climate change activities (including adaptation activities) underway within the agency
  • Caltrans provides an overview of their adaptation activities, which include developing internal guidance documents to raise awareness about potential climate-related transportation impacts; incorporating design and construction suggestions into their Highway Design Manual; and maintaining and operating vulnerable roadways with the threat of flooding and erosion in mind

"Flooded Bus Barns and Buckled Rails: Public Transportation and Climate Change Adaptation" (FTA 2013)

  • Case study approach to identifying existing transportation adaptation tools and strategies, and discusses modification of such strategies for application in a transit setting
  • Concludes that there are four overarching categories of adaptation strategies: maintain and manage, strengthen and protect, enhance redundancy, and abandon infrastructure in areas of extreme vulnerability

"Climate Change Impacts on Transportation in the Midwest" (Posey 2012)

  • White paper on transportation adaptation activities underway in the Midwest
  • Includes several case studies on existing adaptation initiatives underway in Chicago, Wisconsin, and Michigan
  • Chicago's transportation adaptation efforts are focused on storm water management
  • Wisconsin Department of Transportation is evaluating the costs of flood-proofing certain corridors against the costs of temporary closures of those roads
  • Michigan Department of Transportation is considering a variety of adaptation measures to reduce risks from more intense precipitation and heat events

"Promising Practices in Climate Adaptation and Resilience: A Guide for Local Leaders" (ISC 2010)

  • Guide features case studies of various U.S. cities developing adaptation plans, integrating adaptation into local planning practices, establishing and maintaining a local commitment to adaptation, and successfully collaborating across jurisdictions
  • Case studies do not focus solely on transportation, but they provide insights into successful practices used for adaptation planning at a local level; many of those practices can be utilized for local transportation planning efforts

"Synthesis Report of FLMA Climate Change Efforts" (FHWA 2012a)

  • Synthesis of best practice adaptation activities underway within Federal Land Management Agencies (FLMA) throughout the U.S.
  • Shows that of the agencies engaging in adaptation activities. Much of the work referenced in this document relates to assessing impacts and vulnerability, but it also discusses the extent to which adaptation initiatives and costs have been evaluated and incorporated into national Parks and Refuges.

"Planning for Systems Management & Operations as part of Climate Change Adaptation" (FHWA 2013b)

  • Summarizes potential climate impacts on system management and operations
  • Explores options to build climate resilience by increasing capability to manage more frequent and severe climate events and planning for operations in an uncertain future
Updated: 12/23/2016
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