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Climate Change Adaptation Peer Exchanges: Comprehensive Report

3. Future Needs and Participant Recommendations

MPO and DOT representatives at the three regional peer exchanges identified needs for additional support in order to begin adapting to climate change impacts. They also recommended potential next steps for the Federal Highway Administration and other federal agencies interested in supporting state and local adaptation efforts.

Single Source for Adaptation Best Practices and Technical Resources

As these peer exchanges demonstrated, adaptation and vulnerability assessment are not "one-size-fits-all" processes. Each agency will need to assess vulnerability and integrate adaptation into its operations in the way that makes the most sense given that agency's context and objectives. However, peer exchange participants noted that they felt overwhelmed by the amount of data and resources available. There is currently no single place that MPOs and DOTs can visit in order to get information on best practices in the field, case studies, and frameworks for planning the vulnerability assessment and adaptation process. Peer exchange participants at all three exchanges expressed the need for organized guidance from a single source. While each agency will use these resources differently, it would be helpful to document best practices and case studies so that MPOs and DOTs have potential models to follow and frameworks to consider. It is important that this single source of information be targeted for transportation audiences. For example, during the New England Adaptation Peer Exchange, representatives from the MPOs observed that MPO-focused resources on adaptation planning are not currently available.

Beyond the need for a single, organized source of adaptation information, participants also identified needs for specific types of technical guidance. Commonly identified technical needs included:

Guidance on Evaluating Adaptation Options

Very few resources exist to help DOTs and MPOs evaluate and compare adaptation options. Participants at all three peer exchanges highlighted the need for information on the costs of adaptation and emphasized that very little cost information is currently available. They noted that cost information is likely to be very context-specific but that even if exact cost estimates are not available, it would be helpful to understand relative costs. For example, during the West Coast Peer Exchange, participants suggested that potential candidates for immediate adaptation options would include high-cost, long-lived infrastructure programs, long-term programs with a high cost of failure, and high-value programs with a high cost of failure. The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact is one example of a program that has developed costs of sea level rise. The Compact created cost estimates using information from existing flood control efforts. For example, Miami-Dade County requested $19.5 million in FEMA funding to repair road systems damaged from extreme weather and the cost of one forward pump is $3.4 million dollars.

DOTs and MPOs are also interested in understanding the cost of inaction, or the cost of not adapting to climate change. Understanding costs of inaction is important for putting adaptation costs in perspective. That is, adaptation measures that initially may seem expensive may appear more cost-effective when considering the costs associated with not adapting.

During the New England Peer Exchange, participants noted that it may become necessary to abandon certain high-risk, non-critical infrastructure on the coast; however, better understanding of the costs of other adaptation options would held them understand situations where abandonment makes sense.

Collaboration and Leadership on Implementing Adaptation

The MPO and DOT representatives at these three exchanges recommended specific best practices for overcoming the barriers and challenges described in this report. One of the major barriers to adaptation efforts across the region is lack of collaboration among local, state, and federal agencies. Proactively building partnerships among these agencies is an adaptation best practice because it helps agencies integrate climate change considerations across different types of planning. For example, Vermont is working closely with local communities to develop hazard mitigation plans and flood management strategies that tie into state-level adaptation efforts.

Collaboration and partnership are also of critical importance at the federal level. State DOTs and MPOs across the country benefit from federal leadership and cooperation. For example, participants at all three peer exchanges noted the importance of having a state-sanctioned source of climate projection data. However, with the exception of a few areas, most states have not specified which models, data, scenarios, and time frames DOTs and MPOs should use in adaptation planning. Similarly, participants noted that the FEMA flood maps and the NOAA rainfall atlas are two very important sources of hazard information that should be updated to account for changing climate patterns. Participants also discussed the need to review transportation design standards and potentially provide new guidance on how to use them under conditions of climate change. Meeting these demands, and supporting DOTs and MPOs as they address climate change impacts will require involvement from multiple agencies and organizations, including FEMA, FHWA, and AASHTO. Since no single agency is capable of providing all of the information and services needed to inform decision making, meeting the climate challenge will require increased coordination among federal agencies and their partners.

Updated: 12/21/2015
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